How does your town figure out the school budget?

Here in Vermont the school board sets a budget for the upcoming school year, and it is put to a town-wide vote in March.

The budget is paid for by tax dollars paid by homeowners based upon a percentage of home value.

In my town, the budget gets vetoed two or three times every year. Each new vote has the budget at a lower amount until it gets passed. It seems that the budget that passes is the one that is the same amount as the previous year.

Every year they have a RIF list of teachers that are going to get fired to lower the budget. The last hired is the first fired (in a department).

Does this seem fair? My problems are-

  1. Why do 5 people on the school board get to decide the budget?
  2. Why does everybody get to vote, when it only affects property owners? I realize that renters may be affected, but…
  3. Why don’t people want to pay for a good public education? Seriously!
  4. Why do they fire the newest/youngest/lowest paid teacher? Why not the the disgruntled teacher who has been there 40 years, and is 5 years past their retirement date? Two or three new teachers make as much as one old teacher.
  5. Why do voters insist that the school budget does not go up every year? Everything costs more as years pass.

I ask because my wife is a teacher, and EVERY year we have to wonder if she’ll have a job. It seems like our life and future is based upon how cheap people are. This is her 5th year, but there is a new teacher this year who has seniority because she was a part time teacher in another subject for more years before joining her department. Yes, Union lawsuits may happen if…

>1. Why do 5 people on the school board get to decide the budget?

Because that’s what the school board is for? Someone has to decide the budget, and we call them the school board.

> 2. Why does everybody get to vote, when it only affects property owners?

By that logic, why shouldn’t commercial real estate owners, who pay in way more property taxes, get more votes?

>3. Why don’t people want to pay for a good public education? Seriously!

You can always spend more. Who’s to say what’s good enough?

>4. Why do they fire the newest/youngest/lowest paid teacher?

Probably contractual. The teachers who do have 20 years seniority want job security. When you wife has 10 or 20 years, do you want her to be fired just because she costs more than a new teacher?

> 5. Why do voters insist that the school budget does not go up every year?

Around here, most people are opposed to the mill rate (tax rate) increasing, because it will never go down again. In our town, the tax base has fallen recently, because of a few plant closures. Yet the teacher still have a contractual 4% salary increase this year, and salary and benefits is 81% of the school budget. Not surprising that people resent that increase.

OK so maybe here’s a better question(s) than the ones I asked above-

You think your towns school budget is too high, so who do you choose to fire to keep it down? Why?
Would you vote to get rid of any extra-curricula programs instead of teachers?
What ‘wasteful things’ would you vote to cut out?

Seriously, there has to be a better answer to lower the school budget than firing 10% of the teachers, which is where it stands now.

I guess one of my ideas is to reduce energy consumption. For example, there are probably 500 electrical things like computers, LCD projectors, TV’s, copiers, and smart boards that are left on 24/7 for no reason. And for some reason most teachers keeps the blinds on the windows down all winter, when they could let the sunshine in to warm the room. And during the warm months, the schools could keep the 3rd floor windows open at night to let the rising heat out and then the schools would be cooler during the day. They could also use smaller school buses, most of the time I see full size 50 passenger buses with 6 kids inside. Why not use minivans, or something smaller?

What else is in the budget? Is there anything that can be out-sourced? DC Schools used to have its own IT staff and last year they were let go and all IT support is now done by the city’s designated tech support agency. Of course that means the schools also lost their IT budget but there was a net savings since the citywide IT support agency is a much leaner operation and already part of the city’s charter.

Staffing costs are the biggest part of a program’s budget so cutting the budget usually means that somebody is going to lose their job. If it’s not teachers then it’s IT staff or janitorial services.

Raised blinds makes for a nice distraction for the kids. Most of the electronic things you mention should have power saving modes. I know that copiers and smart boards do. Shutting them off every day might save a few dollars every month at most.

Minivans seems like a good idea, but if they’re not already in the fleet inventory then we’re talking about a new capital expenditure.

Infrastructure modernization is a hefty initial cost but pays for itself over a few years. One example that I know of is a school that fitted each class room with its own heat pump. Heat or cool only the rooms that are needed, instead of the entire school.

My wife was a public school teacher, so I know where your frustration is coming from. She got RIF’d every year for the first seven years she taught, and then got hired back after the district tallied the number of teacher vacancies after the new contracts were signed.

But where else will you find efficiencies, if not in payroll?

Most school windows (at least around here) are only single-pane glass. If teachers keep the blinds drawn on sunny days, it’s because the windows are drafty. Should we replace windows? Sure, but where will you get the money for them?

The school buses are probably already paid for. Should you get smaller, more fuel-efficient buses? Sure, but where will you get the money for them?

Get rid of all the extra-curricular programs? There are some students who survive in school only because they have an outlet like art, music, sports or whatever. Frankly, I always thought interscholastic sports was a big waste but my wife (the teacher) vigorously defends them.

As for outsourcing, what’s the difference between firing all the cafeteria workers and bus drivers vs. firing 10% of the teachers. Does a teacher with a degree deserve more job security than a janitor? We’ve seen way too many examples around here of substandard food and even bad bus service after those functions were outsourced. A school district can fire a bad cafeteria worker, but try to replace an entire bus contract in the middle of the year.

How do they figure the budget?

They take the funds they have and multiply by 10

Then complain that they don’t have enough funds.

I’ve followed school boards for 30 years and this seems to be the plan…in boom or bust times…

This is more suited to IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Who should decide the budget if not the school board? You? Do you think these five people go into a back room with a ouija board and conjure up the school budget? Most of it is already decided for them. Debt on outstanding bonds, state and federal requirements, contractual raises, pension costs. These school boards operate on the margins and every time a new cost enters the equation, they have to decide whether they will sock the taxpayers with a 10% tax increase or try and cut something out.

Because we decided a while ago that the right to vote belongs to everybody not just those who own property. Besides if property owners were the only ones who got to vote, you would probably never pass a budget. Do not underestimate the power of the free-riders.

Because a lot of older folks feel like they paid their share and want a break now that they don’t draw a salary anymore. Because a lot of people don’t have kids and don’t want to subsidize others kids. Because a lot of folks who send their kids to private schools don’t want to pay twice. It may not be right, but it is what it is.

Because the disgruntled teacher with 40 years is probably the union steward and isn’t going anywhere.

You don’t seem to any capacity to understand others views or needs. You deride people as cheap because they won’t pony up. Yet someone who lost their job or won’t get any raise at all this year is probably a little upset they are being asked to pay more in taxes to cover your wife’s contractual raise or to top off the state teachers pension fund. Someone who just found out that their health insurance will go up another 10% is probably not thinking that he is cheap to ask school employees to buck up a bit more for health care coverage.

Your wife is worried about her job? Welcome to the freaking club.

Even though I get no vote at all in PA, I should consider myself lucky. One of my friends just got stuck paying the bill for a new football stadium. Another couple I know are paying for a brand new high school complete with acquatic center in a district with no population growth.

There’s also a long history of antagonism between schools and the voters over budget issues.

For instance, teacher strikes are very unpopular with the generally non-unionized voters. People think teachers have a pretty sweet deal already (true or not), and them striking because their health premiums are going up (like everyone else) and causing hassles for the parents is not appreciated.

Also, when budgets are tight, school boards tend to threaten to cut things like art or music or football, because they know they will be an outcry. Yet those are invariably not the reason the budget is higher this year, and those could be cut entirely and the budget would still be unfunded. It’s so transparently manipulative.

But what? You answered your own question. Sure renters don’t pay property tax themselves, but their landlords do and factor it into the rent. And as Neptunian Slug said we’ve long moved past the point where suffrage is conditioned on land ownership or wealth. Also not every school system in the country relies on a property tax. Many have a local income tax imposed on everyone who lives (or works) in the school district. Granted this leads to taxation without representation as one can own property in a district, but live in another and pay taxes on both while only voting where one lives.
Around here the school district includes several towns and is a completely seperate government from them. Voters elect 9 school directors (I can’t remember if the district is divided into wards or we elect them at-large). I’ve only evey attended one school board meeting (in high school) and it was the most mindnumbingly boring thing I’d ever been too. I might have even fallen asleep at some point. I don’t remember them discussing the budget, but they did discuss and vote on alot of stuff regarding teachers’ hiring, raises, promotions, etc. This led to a vary strange interaction with my French teacher the next morning when I congradulated her one being made chairwoman of the Foreign Language Dept and she had no idea what I was talking about. They hadn’t told her yet.

My town got a huge levy voted in, multiplied it by 1.20 and then spent it. They then went after and got another levy passed. Oh, and the Superintendent responsible for all of it moved on to bigger and better things.