Jay Eshelman: Warning — It’s time to examine school budgets

This commentary is by Jay Eshelman, a business owner and a former Work Force Investment Board and River Valley Technical Center board member. He is a resident of Westminster, Vermont.

WARNING! It’s time to read your town warning for this year’s annual meetings. As you do so, please consider what is certain to be the most expensive article you will be asked to approve: your school district budget.

Don’t get into the weeds of each line item — at least not at first. Simply consider the overall school budget and the number of students it serves. The veracity of each line item, after all, is irrelevant. The school board is not required to spend the funding as it’s presented for approval. Once the school budget is passed, your school board will spend the money in any way it sees fit.

Below is an example of what you might see. This is the school’s budget article in my town, and only for grades K-8. And keep in mind that the so-called ‘spending per equalized pupil’ is the first instance of financial smoke and mirrors you will see. While the equalized student enrollment is approximately 220 students in Westminster, in reality, there are fewer than 200 K-8 students in the district. This is because the state’s method of allocating funds increases the actual enrollment by more than 10%.

How the state calculates its ‘equalized pupil’ enrollment is, for the most part, arbitrary. If you’re interested to see how the sausage is made, watch the videos for the 1-12-23 joint House Education and Ways and Means meetings discussing Act 127. It shows how the state legislators arbitrarily change the actual student enrollment numbers (Average Daily Membership – ADM) to the Equalized Student Enrollment numbers. Keep your Ouija boards at the ready.

But I digress.

Article 10: Shall the voters of the Westminster Town School District approve the school board to expend the sum of $5,149,731 (five million, one hundred forty-nine thousand, seven hundred thirty-one dollars) which is the amount the Board has determined to be necessary for the ensuing year? It is estimated that this proposed budget, if approved with the $300,000 reduction proposed in Article 3, will result in education spending of $21,888 per equalized pupil. This projected spending per equalized pupil is 14.4% higher than spending for the current year. Without the reduction using surplus funds, the projected spending per equalized pupil is $23,266.

As you read this article, consider the ramifications of its passage and the circumstances affecting it:

  • Using Westminster’s ‘actual’ enrollment, projected spending is $25,748 per pupil.
  • The state average student per teacher and paraeducator ratio is less than 4 to 1.
  • The state average student to total public education staff ratio (Superintendents to Bus Drivers) is less than 2 to 1.
  • Only 40% of Vermont’s public-school students meet grade level standards.
  • And still, 90% of these public-school students graduate.

Now consider that a Vermont student can attend Castleton State University as a full-time undergraduate for $25,482 per year — including tuition, student association fees, student resources fees, and for new students, the new student registration/orientation fee. Room and board are included, too.

No. I haven’t addressed what actually happens in our public-schools. Cost and academic performance is one thing. ‘Indoctrination’ is, after all, in the eyes of the beholder. But discipline and student safety are a greater concern than ever before.

Fortunately, in Westminster, we do have one benefit many other parents don’t have: our seventh- and eighth-graders receive school choice tuition vouchers. The 2022-2023 Average Announced Tuition of Union seventh-12th grade schools was $17,278.00. It will be interesting to see how much next year’s voucher will be, given the increase in annual costs this year.

Hopefully, the tyrants in the Legislature, who are considering doing away with the tuitioning voucher, will be thwarted. But who knows with a supermajority in the State House.

As I said: WARNING!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

7 thoughts on “Jay Eshelman: Warning — It’s time to examine school budgets

  1. I’ve confirmed actual Westminster School enrollments. Westminster’s ‘projected’ cost per student (using the ‘actual’ number of kids in the school this current FY 2022-23 school year as a basis) will be $26,870 per student for FY 2023-24 if the budget passes. In other words, in my district at least, the so-called ‘equalized student enrollment’ subjectively increases ‘actual enrollments’ by more than 15%.

    Quick math – that is a more than $1000 per student higher cost than I previously referenced in this article. And it exceeds the cost for an in-state student to attend Castleton State University for a full year of undergraduate studies by $1388 per year. And, again, Castleton State’s costs include room and board.

  2. I’ve thought that one way to wake people up is a state law that requires every rental bill, every month to detail the taxes and fees that are part of the bill. — People complain about $1000 a month for a tiny apartment, but keep voting for the budgets that end up adding $400 or more to the rent every month.

  3. Until schools and districts distance themselves from the well oiled educational industrial complex machine run by the AOE, DOE, VSBA, NSBA, VPA, NPA, VSIA, NSIA, NEA and AFT, government run public schools will only get more expensive and their students less educated. We need a grass roots childhood education transformation. Until then, if you can, get your kids out!

  4. In addition to the school budget, I urge voters to examine municipal and town budgets. Barre City approved expenditure of $75,858 for a hybrid police cruiser. A ballot item $25,000 grift to the alphabet gender equity non-profit of which there are two such non-profits in Barre City operating under the same flag. The devil is indeed buried in the details of the budgets. Pay close attention to where tax dollars are being appropriated, the grifts asking for taxpayer handouts in spite of advertising corporate sponsors on their web pages, and all the other line items that most pay no mind to and wonder why our taxes keep climbing much faster than incomes.

    • Melissa: While budgetary scrutiny is warranted for all public expenditures, consider putting your energy where it can have the greatest impact. A $75,000 car and a $25,000 line item grant are small potatoes.

      Barre’s school budget is over $53 Million. Its equalized pupil enrollment is reported to be approximately 2307 students. And Barre’s cost per student is listed in its last budget as approximately $16,252 per student.

      Do the math. $53 Million divided by 2307 ‘equalized pupils’ equals more than $23,000 per student. The discrepancy between equalized enrollment (2307) and actual enrollment reported by AOE (2217 students), means Barre’s actual cost per student is $24,020.

      Now compare that to the cost of a tuition voucher of $17,278. If your school board were amenable, for every Barre student choosing to attend an independent school, your district could save up to $6,742 per student. Never mind the potential improvements in academic performance and parental control of the curricula.

      • Jay, please refrain from advising me how to expend my energy and where. I have lived in Barre City since 1978, prior to that Barre Town. I watched my city go from a bustling, prosperous city to a non-profiteering, grifting, poverty-ridden, drug invested Hellhole. Barre City municipal taxes coupled with Barre City school taxes are pushing people beyond over the edge. Our largest commerical tax base is nearly non-existent making the residential household burden unsustainable! Most of the new businesses on Main Street are TIF’s (tax free!) The bigger companies all moved to Barre Town. Above all, the real economic numbers don’t lie. Yet, between the State and local governments, they “pretend” all is well, so pay more you peasants.

        I commend you for being very detailed, statistic-oriented. However, I follow the money and who is managing it. The big picture. The backgrounds of those in charge of the money and how it is spent here in Barre City is very telling. The $25,000 ballot request is part of that big picture, the big grift, and the agenda set forth for Barre City and the entire State.

        • Melissa, I simply asked you to ‘consider’ the prospect of focusing first on your school budget. I don’t doubt that your assessment of Barre’s municipal ‘grifting’ is worthwhile. But you seem to have forgotten that school budgets are, after all, what the article is about. None the less, you have every right to inject your concerns about other issues whenever you chose. And I would be the last person to suggest that you stop advising me in that regard. So please forgive me for advising you further, but perhaps you might submit your own separate editorial on Barre Town’s municipal misgivings to TNR for publication and comment.

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