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:)
“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 havingâ€¦ 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.”
“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.