A very logical article sent to me by a friend. The school system in question is the Craven County North Carolina School System:
Instead of constantly looking at only the micro budgeting issues for the school system – let’s look at the macro. I had an accountant teach me this while running the IT Budgeting system for a large Agency – yes, the whole thing – over a billion dollars. What I learned is only looking at the micro causes you to miss the big picture and that there are funds available – just not being used properly. BTW when I started applying this trick with a few other engineers in the budget shop with me – we were mysteriously transferred out and told to stop. Why – because we were finding the money and demonstrating there was more than ample money – the issue was not needing more money – the issue was getting proper oversight of the expenditure of the money!
I will use only the Board of Education published data. Source 1: https://www.publicschoolreview.com/north-carolina/craven-county-schools-school-district/3703310-school-district
Assume equal distribution of students – I know not right but we are doing a macro picture, not micro so it is okay. So 13,895 across 25 schools in the macro picture is 555.8 students per school. This source says there are 16:1 student ratio – that is pretty good!!! So more teachers are not needed – you could go to a 20:1 ratio and still be great. So let’s take the argument away and say that a decent classroom size is 23-25 at the high school level and 16 at the elementary level. Let’s say middle school is also 16. That means half the population needs 1 teacher per 16 students and the other half needs a 1 teacher per 23 students – I get to needing 736 teachers which gives me 152 teachers to augment the needed teachers as see fit (and note the 152 is far less than the number of vacancies). Notice I am not disputing the 889 number – just trying to figure out how we are using them and what they are doing as an investigative question since the main complaint is the retention rate is so low and we are seriously short of teachers.
Next source: https://www.publicschoolreview.com/north-carolina/craven-county-schools-school-district/3703310-school-district?fbclid=IwAR0m-kWR84RLSzLKrJ63kzQCLBRdRKg0x3g1a2Mkd1scoHCPmgiZjilDwpU
Again doing the math: 13985 divided by 889 teachers, I get a 15:1 ratio, not the 16:1 ratio – so the two sources are obviously using the same database and are synchronized with each other and is on par with the State as you can see in the chart right next to it. Now go further down in this source to fiscal comparison. Where is the money going? The graphs are showing the dollars per student is far less for 2021 – okay – but how did you get there – that is not shown. The graphs together do NOT make sense. If the school system as a whole is spending more than the state norm (significantly more), and the school system is spending less per student than the state norm – where is the money going? Look at the graphs together – it does not make sense. If you are looking at the macro picture it says some reprogramming of where the money is going is needed? Where are those requests?
Teachers are saying it is more like a 26:1 ratio in reality and that these numbers are not true and is the basis for a lot of teacher complaints. We are hearing from school board members that there is a serious vacancy rate of teachers and from at least one that it is not teachers but staff members – again these statements are not tracking with the published numbers.
The point – the point is the micro and macro pictures do not go together – what is the bottom line? The cry teachers need more money could be satisfied looking at the macro picture. The cry that the student-teacher ratio is too high is not supported by the macro picture and in fact the macro picture now begs the question – where is the money going? Worse when submitting the budget for the last two years it is obvious that not all schools count the same making the budget even harder to figure out. For example, one school could count a librarian as a teacher but another does not.
Look at the spending curve – Craven County is receiving more money than the norm for schools yet is among one of the counties paying the lowest teacher salaries. Why? That is an interesting question to tackle.
Good budgeting is reconciling the macro and the micro views – not just asking for money. Right now we have a disparity between the macro (a 16:1 student/teacher ratio) and the micro (somewhere above 23:1 student/teacher ratio). Further we have a $7M reserve fund in the school system – why? That is exceptionally high – that is money just sitting there not being used. No county department has that high of a reserve fund.
I get the budgeting is hard – there is county, state, and federal dollars to account for. The county dollars pay for essentially the infrastructure (this includes the computers and software that each student has) and additional money for staff (this includes teachers if so desired). State pays primarily for staff, curriculum, books (which are basically non-existent in the classrooms I’ve visited – there was one book to be shared among the teacher’s 6 classes). Feds are paying for the rest. County is about 25% of the budget, State is about 66% of the budget, which leaves the Feds about 10%. Again, perhaps the proportions need adjusting if this isn’t working – has anyone tried to get that done?
We, citizens that own property in the state, are just asking to spend more tax dollars and pour more money into the system – we can do that – but it won’t fix the issue of lack of proper oversight of the resources. I get the complications – for example asking a history teacher to teach chemistry is not good – but in the macro sense, we just need to move assets around (or as I showed there are 152 extras that this could be accounting for). I also get that if we have a great history teacher and are one too many – that we don’t want to get rid of the history teacher, perhaps want to do it through attrition and maybe the ratio will change to something else when it comes time for that history teacher to leave (which will happen – either by retirement, quitting, or death – eventually that teacher will leave – its just a question of the time period – but are we carrying 152 teachers hoping for the larger class sizes?). But the bottom line as the one accountant taught me, the micro and macro pictures are not matching – they aren’t even in the same universe. Could you imagine having a household budget of $40,000 with a $100,000 reserve, and expenses of $35,000 saying that you can’t make it? That is what we are being told. Oversight is needed – where is it? In government all decisions are documented – again where is the oversight – please provide the documentation that it exists.