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School Issues: Here Comes the Cutting

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: Here Comes the CuttingPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Budget cuts at Columbus City Schools are on their way. It’s no surprise. Cuts were on the table before the failure of the levy. The Columbus Education Commission members weighed in last year, suggesting steps such as lobbying for relaxed bus safety regulations, and sourcing more economical menu items for school lunches.

This time around, however, the board and superintendent have suggested that public input will help shape the next budget. Since it’s hard to make helpful suggestions without first knowing a little bit about the budget of Columbus City Schools, a link to the most recent accounting report, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, can be found HERE (PDF).

It is an elephantine document of numbers and charts. There is a page for just about everything you can think of; there’s a page for food service, a page for library donations, a page for latchkey services…

Some pages are more useful than others. For example, page 16 is helpful when it comes to getting a better look at the bigger picture: it contains a statement of annual expenditures. The total expenditure figure hovers close to 998 million. If you remove debt servicing, building and facility expenses, the total annual expenditures stand at $865,925,226; almost 866 million dollars.

866 million is a lot of money. Conventionally, that figure would also include the money Columbus City Schools loses when a family leaves the system for a charter school. Estimates for charter losses are close to 98 million dollars for that year. Following convention, that would leave Columbus City Schools with 768 million dollars per year actively invested in educating its 48,675 students: that’s $15,778 per student, or about $88 per day, per student.

During that accounting period, a classroom of 25 students then costs $2,200 per day to run. Over the school year, that classroom would cost about $396,000 to run.

The investment strategy is interesting when viewed as a pattern spanning from 2003 through 2012. That particular table appears on page 202:

Enrollment dropped 23.5% from 63,628 to 48,675. The teaching staff dropped by 29%, moving from 5327 to 3798.

But government expenditures*? They seem to increase by 44%. In fact, the table indicates that per pupil cost doubles during this time period.

More money: fewer students, fewer teachers. It’s an unsustainable trend that has a ten-year history in the system. Perhaps the role of the public is to help CCS leaders find a more sustainable path.

(*The financial figures on page 202 seem again to include money that leaves the district for charter schools.)

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