Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Different Look at School Budget Growth

With the school budget season winding down, and people expressing concerns about school issues including budgets, I decided to take a closer look at school budget growth over the last few years.  In summary, I don't think the school budget is rising uncontrollably.

I decided to compare growth in burden on FCC taxpayers from the schools and general government from 2010 to 2016.  I picked these years because population estimates are available for 2010 and 2015, Falls Church Census, and the approved FCC budgets are also available for fiscal years 2011 (starting July 1, 2010), FY2011 City Budget, and 2016 (starting July 1, 2015), FY2015 City Budget.

I decided to compare burden on the taxpayers from operation of the schools and general government, that is, I looked at the general government's operating budget versus the budgeted transfer payment to the schools.  I looked at general government growth versus City population, and school budget growth versus school population, because those seemed to me to be the key drivers for growth.   Here is what I found.

From 2010 to 2015, the school population grew about 21%.  During the same period (FY2011 - FY2016), the budget transfer to the schools grew 37.6%, or about 1.72 times faster than student population growth.  Sound excessive?

Let's compare the general government.  During the same period the City population grew about 11.5%, and the general government budget grew 28.1%, or about 2.43 times faster than population growth.  That's 41.7% more than growth rate vs. population in the transfer payment to the schools.

Now the caveats.  First, this doesn't include debt service, because those figures were not broken out in the same budgets, nor pay-as-you-go capital.  Second, I included Special Transportation Funding & WMATA, Debt-Financed Expenditures, and Building Safety (Permit Fee Reserve) in the general government budget for FY2015, because those things seemed to me to be part of the general government expenditures (and they were not separately broken out in FY2011).  However, even if you exclude these significant items, the general government expenditures grew 4.7% faster than school transfer payment growth vs. relevant population during this period.  I'd welcome any comments on how to improve this comparison, and if I have made a error.

I certainly don't mean to defend every school expenditure, support all the programs included in the school budget, or suggest that the general government budget is growing too quickly.  But I also think it is important to put school budget growth in the context of the relevant growth of the served population.  Thoughts and comments welcome below or at!

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

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