Aug 23, 07 LTE (Observer) School Attendance and Spending

Because the school funding campaign has already begun with the numerous articles about the need for a new preschool (and you can bet a new administration building will be thrown in again as it was a few years ago), I decided to respond to the articles recently run about how enrollment is up and how the schools hired 30 brand new teachers instead of taking the opportunity to correct the overage situation. Here’s what I’ve sent to the Observer:

With a title like “Enrollment climbs at OR schools” one might be tempted to believe that the OR school population is on the rise. However, when one reviews the schools own historical data, a more complete picture emerges.

There were two statements that do not match up with OR school data. The first stated that “Currently, there are 4,408 students in all OR schools, an increase from 4,394 last year”

In the OR School FY2008 proposed budget, enrollment figures for 2007 are listed at 4,434 which equates to a 26 student loss. Now, either the proposed budget contains an error or this statement is inaccurate.

Also, the FY2008 proposed budget lists an anticipated enrollment of 4,443. And while it remains to be seen what total enrollment will come to, based on the historical data below, it seems highly unlikely that the 35 student loss will be made up.

But, let’s assume that loss will be made up, and enrollment projections will be met at 4,443. The second statement “Since 04/05, we have had a slight trend upward” would be accurate by a total increase of 81 students – about 3 classes. I note that the proposed budget listed a need for an additional 13.5 staff members. And, according to published reports, 30 brand new teachers have just been hired.

Now, let’s tie this all up with some dollar figures. In 1997, the OR school audit reflected total expenditures at $32.1 million dollars. That comes out to about $6,600 per student. The proposed FY2008 budget reflects total expenditures at nearly $49.6 million, which comes out to over $11,000 per student (if enrollment is met), exceeding all other districts in the state as well as the national average.

Total difference between 1997 and proposed 2008
-402 Students +16 staff +$17.48 million

Note: These numbers are not reflective of the Average Daily Membership (ADM) which is what serves as the state’s basis for funding, they were derived from the Approved Budgets submitted by ORS which serve as the basis for the proposed budgets they submit to the City of Oak Ridge when requesting city funding to partially fund the next school year’s budget.

The simple equation that I draw from this data is that while enrollment has dropped by over 400 students in the last 10 years, overall spending and staffing has increased. I have to wonder how we justify such spending habits when our much-prided Newsweek rankings (of high schools based on the Challenge Index) have steadily declined for the last 6 years from 241 to 582. When will we learn that money is not the driving factor behind quality education?

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