It seems enough is never enough for some government agencies. Our first discussion during the Community Vision Team for the bond didn’t even talk about the cost. There was good discussion about the needs of the district and I feel there is a good cross section of ideas on the team. In typical fashion in an agency that gets money from the taxpayer, we still want to find out what we want then we will worry about how much it costs later. There is no concern for how you are going to pay for it. Sure, I want an awesome outdoor kitchen with hot tub and big screen TV, but I first set a budget then find what will fit into the budget. After preparing my budget I ended up with a Bluetooth speaker, wading pool and a nice pellet grill.
USD 373, like most districts, already takes a third of our local taxes. Education also takes over half of the state budget, billions of dollars! I like to look at things more simply so I did the following math: the district gets about $15,000.00 per kid per year. If you look at a typical classroom of 20 kids that equates to $300,000.00 per room per year of “income”. How does that get spent? Again on the outside looking in here is what I think should be spent, keep in mind these are my estimates - not taken from the district budget:
Teacher salary and benefits $80,000
Rent ($20/sq ft/yr for a first class office space) 1000 sq ft typical room $20,000
Utilities, insurance, housekeeping (this is a very generous number) $50,000
Instructional materials $10,000
Additional space cost (cafeteria, gym, up charge for science room etc.) $10,000
Food Service $10,000
As you can see that leaves a significant amount of “profit” per classroom, to the tune of $100,000 per year. Out of that “profit” things like high speed internet, computers for every kid, sports, etc., could be funded. A typical elementary school in Newton has 10 classrooms (2 sections of K-4) so there is $1,000,000 profit per school per year that seems to be unaccounted for.
Every time I ask anyone on the board or in administration where the money goes I get told, “well you are comparing apples and oranges” or “well we have to take everyone who walks through the door”. The first statement is true, but dollars are dollars and no one has told me what I have missed in the above figuring to the tune of $100,000 per room. The second statement is also true but I find it hard to believe that a few special needs children cost the district an additional $1,000,000 per building to educate.
I decided to look for myself and found the district budget at a glance https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RLVt0n6aEuNVHY8TuZuS08h_qpdgBnL7 which paints the financial picture like this using 2017-2018 actual numbers:
Instruction (assuming the 20 kids per room example as above) $177,720
Student and instructional support $31,400
Administration and support $25,660
Operations and maintenance $21,32
Food services $10,940
Capital improvements $3,260
Debt service $23,780
As you can see they account for every dime of the $300,000 spent. So what stands out? First for me is instruction. The district calls for $177,720 per room. I don’t know any teachers who are pulling down 6 figure salaries. Where does it go? When you add in student and instructional support it is over 200K. Everything else is very similar, transportation, cost of building ownership vs. rent, food service. I did notice there is $25,660 of administration per room. That is $256,000 per ‘typical’ building. This seems like a very healthy amount.
Just keep in mind every time the district complains about not having enough money, ask where does the $200,000 exactly go if the teachers aren’t making that much?
— Jason Mitchell is a member of the leadership team of the Harvey County Republican Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.