Staelin Rejects Superintendent’s Funding Statements

Clarke County Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) said at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting that Clarke County ranks in the top 20 percent of Virginia municipalities when it comes to local funding for schools. Staelin’s comments appeared aimed to rebut recent statements made by Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy who has publicly stated that Clarke County ranks 119th out of 132 Virginia school districts and currently provides $1,800 less per student than the state average.

“We’re as close to the bottom as you can get,” Murphy said. “Nine years ago we were $53 less than the state average in the Commonwealth.   We are about $1,800 less per student than the state average right now, which is about $3.6 million dollars.

“One statistic that I looked at is Clarke’s rank with regard to local funding of school operations,” Staelin said. “Generally, Clarke County ranks in the top 20% of all counties. This statistic is taken from the same Table 15 in the Superintendents Annual report that Dr. Murphy used. I simply reordered the table to rank counties by the amount of per pupil local funding of school operations.”

(View the Virginia Department of Education Table 15 Rankings here:  VDOE Table 15 Rankings  )

Since both Staelin and Murphy cite the same source for their statistics, Table 15 of the Superintendent’s Annual Report for Virginia, at first glance the statements appear contradictory. However, a closer look at the data seems to support both sides of the school funding debate.

Each year the Virginia Department of Education publishes a county ranking of sources of educational financial support for school expenditures, total expenditures for school operations and total per pupil expenditures for operations. This ranking is known as “Table 15”. Because Table 15 itemizes local, state, and federal contributions for each county, rankings can be cited to support a number of different views about the same issue.

Supervisor Staelin’s statement focuses on Table 15’s “local per pupil” funding contribution, where CCPS ranks a respectable 18th out of 100 county school districts, while Dr. Murphy’s statement appears to focus on “total per pupil expenditure” funding. However, based on overall “total per pupil expenditure” Clarke ranks a dismal 83rd out of 100 Virginia school districts.

With Staelin and Murphy both citing different statistics from the same VDOE report, the school funding debate may begin to be framed more clearly; Is Clarke County’s top-20 local school funding contribution adequate given falling test scores and its bottom-20 overall total per pupil expenditure position?

In making the case that Clarke County’s Board of Supervisors is doing all that it can to support educational needs, last week Staelin released a ten-year analysis of Clarke County school expenditure trends prepared by Clarke County’s Joint Administrative Services division. Coined the “Houck/Staelin Report”, the document concludes that Clarke County’s “per pupil operations” expenditures have risen from $9,185 in 2003 to $9,565 in 2011.

(View the Houck/Staelin Report here:)

Houck - Staelin Report (Click to enlarge)


“The Houck/Staelin report was created because both Bill [Houck] and I saw that people were quoting seemingly contradictory numbers in hopes of proving a point. This is not to say that anyone was lying; people were just selectively using numbers to support their opinion,” Staelin said. “Bill and I wanted one report that presented the data as fairly as possible. This is not to say that the Houck/Staelin report is the only way to look at the data. However, it is certainly one of the most unbiased ways of looking at it.”

Bill Houck is a former chairman Clarke County School Board chairman.

Staelin said that by comparing the average per pupil, inflation adjusted spending for the earliest two years in the Houck/Staelin Report – $9384 – with the average of the latest two years – $9456 – the analysis demonstrates that the County’s per pupil spending has increased on an inflation adjusted basis.

“Per pupil spending on operations may not be up as much as other jurisdictions, but it is up,” Staelin said.

Staelin also pointed out that the operational expenditures do not reflect Clarke County’s major capital expenditure in the new high school.

“Those numbers do not take into account in any way any capital expenditures. It’s purely operations,” Staelin said. “There are people who say you shouldn’t look at capital, that the key is operations. Well, I agree that the key is operations. But the fact is that you need buildings and buildings cost money. And you can either invest a whole lot of money into buildings or you can invest it into having… I guess you could have lots of poorly paid teachers. There are all kinds of things in the mix but there is a limit as to what the County can do.”

Staelin continued:

“Although the Supervisors deal with that issue between capital expenditure and operations, the School Board decides how they’re spending things. That operations number, our ranking there, is certainly impacted by the fact that we put so much money into buildings. It’s also impacted by state funding which has gone down as our funding has gone up. In terms of local funding for education we rank in the top 20%.”

Staelin said that the Houck/Staelin Report also shows that local tax funding of education has increased 55% over 9 years from $16,899,540 to $24,285,580, a compounded average of about 5% per year.

“Even in the last four years, years of extreme economic difficulty with a major recession, spending is up a bit less than 4% a year, compounded,” Staelin said.

“It is also important to look at the actual spending numbers unadjusted for inflation,” Staelin said. “The average per pupil spending for operations in the first two years of the report is $7697. The average for the last two years is $9505, a 24% increase over nine years. Comparing that 24% increase against the 55% increase we had in local tax funding of education we see the impact that school construction costs can have on the funding of school operations. I recognize that some people do not think that the cost of new buildings should limit spending on school operations but the fact is it does. No County has unlimited funds. We operate much like a family. When spending in one area increases a lot – moving into a new house – spending on most other areas -cars, travel- usually sees smaller increases. It will take time for the County to digest the added cost of building the new high school and converting the old high school to an elementary school, but we will.”

“Dr. Murphy created his own statistic from Table 15. I was not there to hear Dr. Murphy give his presentation, so I do not know what he said. However, it is my understanding that he took Clarke’s rank in an earlier year of the report and calculated how much more Clarke would be spending on education today if it held the same rank today as it did years ago. I cannot check his numbers as I do not have his report, but I assume his numbers are correct. However, it must be pointed out that Clarke is spending much more on education today than it was ten years ago. Our rank in per pupil funding of operations may have fallen against others and we may not be spending as much as Dr. Murphy would like, but Clarke is spending more per pupil on school operations today than it was 10 years ago even on an inflation adjusted basis,” Staelin said.


  1. Time4Change says:

    I think CDN should post this same table for the two years before this report. I bet that local spending money includes the money for the new high school. It would sure be nice to see if the local government actually supports the schools as much as this table suggests. Everyone knows that a new high school has been needed forever but the BOS sure didn’t want to build one. I think a one time big expense like that can hardly pass for funding the schools.

  2. Interesting that Mr. Staelin only looked at the counties (94, of which “the top 20%” is the top 18…meaning CCPS is LAST in the “top 20%); it’s all about the spin, Mr. Staelin. When independent cities and towns are also included, Clarke’s rank falls OUT of the “top 20%” because the cities of Falls Church, Alexandria, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Colonial Heights, Williamsburg/James City County, Winchester, Harrisonburg, and Manassas all exceed what this county puts up. When you add these 10 divisions into the mix, CCPS drops from “18” to “28” which puts them outside “the top 20% in school divisions,” since there are 132 divisions in the state (“top 20%” = the top 26 divisions). Interesting, too, is Mr. Staelin’s lack of explanation as to why the numbers that he and Tom Judge came up with are more than $4000 higher than what the state uses, especially if – as he emphatically claims – debt service and other sources are not factored in.

    Now, in fairness, these cities have more industry and commercial development; are all on major highways and/or interstates; and have more options available (without General Assembly approval) to raise revenues or levy taxes than counties do (thanks to that arcane “Dillon Rule”). And, given that the state figures that Clarke has a higher ability to pay, state aid is always going to be lower than some might wish. Thus, it falls onto the locality to find the ways to generate the revenue needed to keep CCPS competitive. One possible option might be to enact a meals tax like Frederick County, the Town of Berryville, Winchester, and other jurisdictions have in place. While not a huge windfall, perhaps, it would generate some sorely-needed money for pressing county needs (schools, computer/IT improvements, etc.).

  3. Hal Jordan says:

    Staelin’s re-do of the DoE graph (conveniently posted here by CDN) ignores Winchester? Let’s look at Rappahannock County, which someone (Mr. Staelin? CDN?) highlighted in the graph. This division doesn’t even have 1000 students, nor does it get near the state OR federal aid that CCPS does, yet it spends some $3500 MORE per student than CCPS in LOCAL funds. Honestly…what’s IN Rappahannock County, other than Sperryville and some antique shops? Cooter used to have a “Dukes of Hazzard” place there, but…really…what is there but farms and a few small towns and residents? Hmmm…not unlike Clarke in that regard.

    If you look at its NCLB Report Card, it achieves many of the same results, although CCPS has a much better dropout rate. It also is still a member of Mountain Vista Regional Governor’s School, and offers many AP and dual-enrollment courses, as well as a solid career-vocational program with that added local funding. Care to comment, Mr. Staelin?

    CDN Editor: CDN added shading to the spreadsheet to highlight nearby school districts.

  4. The Staelin charade of selecting 94 out of 132 school districts in the state he would like to compare us to is par for the course for him. Why not eliminate all the districts who spend more per student? Then he could claim that Clarke holds the #1 spot. OBSURD! ABSOLUTELY ABSURD!!

    There is a reason Clarke gets less from the state than other districts – it’s because the state ranks us higher in ability to pay. They expect the local contribution to make up the difference. It does not!

  5. footballfan says:

    If we would have a commercial tax base like Warren County has now, we wouldn’t have to pay with local funding (property taxes) for everything. I enjoy the country, but our sales tax go to other counties and pay for their schools.

  6. Looks like Staelin is nervous about Sprouse.

    He should be.

    • Staelin is running unopposed as an independent for Millwood BOS. Sprouse and McKay are vying for White Post BOS seat, the only contested BOS race in Clarke for next election. There is only one School Board seat being contested, Berryville.

      It seems to me most people in this county must be very happy with the ‘leaders’ they choose to represent them and the decision they make on their behalf. Otherwise there surely would be more contested races than these two.

      • What I meant was that Staelin obviously doesn’t want someon like Sprouse on the board because he knows that Sprouse will support increasing school funding.

  7. Tony Parrott says:

    This is typical for Staelin; muddy the waters with ½ truths.
    A few years ago Staelin told everyone how Clarke Co. was one of the top counties in funding public education. Of course he was padding our numbers and not doing a real apple to apple comparison. Now he is going to splice out the local funding and tell you we are tops again but over all we are in the bottom. This is a cheap attempt by Staelin to cover up the fact we are near the bottom and actually lost ground to other counties over the years. It’ like touting your special teams scoring two touchdowns when the team lost by four touchdowns. The team lost and that’s all that really mattered.

    Of all the BOS he is by far my least favorite. I have a lot of respect for David and Mike; even Barbra and Pete at some level but John is by far the sneakiest snake in the grass by a mile. Let’s face it he changed to Independent from Democrat so he wouldn’t have to support Sprouse. Snake in the grass is all I can say.

  8. cheap shot says:

    i agree with tony’s comments above, and the famous quote: “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”. John embodies that, I believe. At first thought, It’s just hard to imagine that no one is running against him, but they have made the position so unpleasant, and we pay so little for our various boards ($100 per meeting, as opposed to $10-15k per year in surrounding counties), that the only ones who can or do run, are the ones with big bankrolls.

  9. Mr. Bell I voted for you four years ago and today would vote for you again or almost anyone who would run against Stalin. I have never liked his views. I still feel voters should have replaced the BOS four years ago instead of replacing the school board. Please someone challenge [redacted] the county has suffered long enough.

    • Unless a challenger runs as a write-in candidate the filing date passed on 23 August to get a person’s name on the ballot.

    • Bill Bell says:

      Thanks Smitty. There just isn’t enough interest in changing anything in our district.This is the first time Mr. Staelin has not had a challenger in at leat 12 years, and we all failed to raise support for a change. He runs, and wins, on not changing much. So here we are.

  10. “Staelin also pointed out that the operational expenditures do not reflect Clarke County’s major capital expenditure in the new high school.” -With this mentality we can simply build/renovate facilities, not properly staff or equip them, and we’ve fulfilled our civic duty as a community to ‘educate’ our youth. This tragically deformed perception of Clarke’s educational needs is at the CORE of the struggles and adversity that has faced our school system for over 20 years. I’d like to believe that our leadership is a bit more observant than this. Can’t we get an open, honest conversation about education without our ‘leadership’ lobbing grenades into the discussion? If Clarke County’s past leadership on both boards (some of which are still present.. Mr. Staelin) had worked cooperatively and actually planned ahead, applying basic project management practices, much of the growth and facilities issues that the BOS love to bemoan as an excuse for inadequate investment in public education could have been dealt with effectively long… long ago.