Friday, May 29, 2009

MNPS taxing authority

Well they had their 'give the BOE taxing authority' rally yesterday and surprise, surprise (not) the news is full of how this would be a good thing for MNPS. Less politics, more accountability, less bickering, yadda, yadda.

I don't understand how having the Mayor, in consultation with the BOE, suggest a budget amount for MNPS and then the Metro Council passes the budget, after budget hearings asking about the needs of MNPS and its past performance (to include how they spent the money they got last time) is LESS accountable than handing over taxing authority to the BOE directly. Please remember, once the Council passes the budget they hand over a lump sum to the BOE who then has the freedom to spend that money as they see fit.

"The public is left out there with no idea which authority to hold accountable,” said Stephen Smith, assistant executive director of the Tennessee School Board Association." City Paper
So the School Board Association instead of educating the public about the process so that we can make wiser decisions about who to hold accountable will "dumb down" the process to ensure this homework isn't too hard for us. Bonus for the education system is they only have to persuade nine people that their pet project is worth reaching into your wallet. Remember, this is all about making it easier for the BOE not easier for taxpayers. I've absolutely no doubt that the BOE doesn't enjoy have to go hat in hand to the Mayor or the Council but that's part of accountability--having to answer for what you've done with what you got before.

And where should it stop? Maybe the police and fire departments should also have taxing authority. The same bogus argument about accountability could be made for them too. Personally, I value public safety over public education. And speaking about public safety...what about the health department? Maybe they shouldn't have to suffer the inconveniences and embarrassment of making a case for their expenditures.

This from the Tennessee County Commissioner's Association back in December of 2008:
"As things stand right now, the Tennessee Constitution would have to be changed in order to directly give school boards taxing authority. That takes time as such a proposal would have to pass two separate General Assemblies and then be approved by the voters. What could happen right away is that the General Assembly could lift the ban on existing school districts converting to special school districts. We have about 14 special school districts in Tennessee currently, but the law has prohibited the creation of any new special school districts for some time. Special school districts levy a property tax pursuant to a private act adopted by the state legislature that sets a tax rate for the school system. So it would take taxing authority away from the county commission, but would give it to state legislators who usually act based on the recommendations of the school board for the special school district." (emphasis added)
How does moving this taxing authority up to the state level make our neighborhood schools and our school board more accountable? Looks like they'll have the same excuse they've got now "Well, we could have done better but the Council/Legislature wouldn't let us have the money we needed."

And what we know about education spending is that the BOE will raise taxes to the maximum the Legislature will allow as quickly as it can with nothing but an election every other year for half of the board to slow it down. You'll have nine folks, most of whom are less financial geniuses than the Metro Council, deciding how much of your money you'll have left to feed and clothe and house your family because they see what they do 'for the children' as more important that what you're trying to do for your own children with the money you earned.

According to the Tennessean the MNPS is 40% of the Metro Nashville budget. 40%! We're getting close to the tipping point. This year the BOE wants $620 million dollars to education about 75,000 children. That's about the current quote for the new convention center. And they've been spending about half a billion dollars for several years now. That's $8,000+ for every one of those 75,000 students and that doesn't include state or federal dollars. They've got enough money.

No matter how many times the Chamber and its partners say 'accountability' this plan is less accountability. They are calling black white and white black. They're going to repeat that often, loudly and in full color brochures as long as we'll let them. I say no. Absolutely no. If the goal really is about we see those teacher value added scores AND we put the MNPS check register on-line?


Nashteach said...

I generally agree that this is a bad idea, but want to correct something first.

That's $8,000+ for every one of those 75,000 students and that doesn't include state or federal dollars.That's not correct. The $620 million and the $8000+ figures include state and federal funds. $200 million of it. If you look at page A3 of the Metro budget you'll see that 18% of Metro revenues are from "grants and contributions"; the lion's share of that is for K-12 education. Metro budgets what it gets from the state and fed as a "revenue," so it is definitely part of the overall figure.

The whole board taxation thing just seems strange. Especially the timing of it. I mean, how many months ago was the Chamber pushing mayoral control as a smart new option? The two things together seem to either be in opposition to one another- setting up a fight over who has policy and funding authority- or, to merge the two ideas…we get a Mayor-appointed board with taxation powers??? Is that right?

The other side of the coin that we’ll never see is for the school board to start pushing back at city and federal mandates to remedying issues related to poverty. If Nashville needs to address the poverty of so many of its families, perhaps that’s what the mayor needs to focus on, remove those types of social service expenditures from the MNPS budget, and let the schools focus on being schools. But so much of the money coming from various levels of government has earmarks as to what kind of student it can be spent on and how it must be spent. The board does not have a say in how a big chunk of the money is spent.

Anyway, it just seems like distracting political posturing. Quite frankly, there’s a part of me that thinks a state takeover would be far more helpful to schools than a territorial fight between the mayor and school board over who’s going to spearhead the next effort to beg for more money (and we know it’ll come). Out of all the political machinations in the past few years, I think the state department of ed has been far more responsive to and level headed about issues of teaching and learning than any other political effort to improve schools.

In terms of the budget, the Director and the school board need to start looking at school spending on a longer term basis. Be sure they can stay committed to new spending if it’s deemed important and that it doesn’t abate the general education program, actually (openly) prioritize the various things it funds, build up reserves- even if it means a few lean years- so that bad revenue years don’t cause too much instability in the basic ed programs. But there has been too much spending that’s unsustainable- for example the $6 million rezoning compromise. So, yeah, I agree having one Davidson County body empowered to raise taxes is quite enough.

Kay Brooks said...

According to the Tn DOE Report Card MNPS spends $10,228 per student. 61% is local funding, 28% is state and just 11% is federal.

So that's
$6,200 local
$2,863 state
$1,125 federal

I'm 78% right then. Or if you prefer 22% wrong. :-)

Kay Brooks said...

Teach wrote: "remove those types of social service expenditures from the MNPS budget, and let the schools focus on being schools."

Here, here! On both counts.

Nashteach said...

OK, I see what you mean. The $620 million ($8300 per student)figures include what the state and feds send to metro/mnps and that other $1900 or so per student is what the state and federal governments spend themselves on their departments of education or bureaucracies or whatever.

About a year ago, mnps did a school level per student expenditure analysis; I know Hume-Fogg was slightly under $6000 per student, but of course no transportation and low poverty, low special ed. I don't know that central office made a public document out of it- would be interesting to see, though.

This is two years old, but a detailed breakdown of where the "per pupil expenditure" is broken down:

Classroom Teachers $ 2,988.29 39.34%
Special Education 733.84 9.66%
Transportation 406.82 5.36%
Custodians 334.34 4.40%
Principals/Asst. Prin. 315.21 4.15%
Building Upkeep 267.15 3.52%
Electricity 212.39 2.80%
Guidance Staff 198.95 2.62%
ELL Staff 175.97 2.32%
Technology Services 172.02 2.26%
School Secretaries 165.11 2.17%
Librarians 147.99 1.95%
Instructional Support3 136.78 1.80%
Natural Gas/Water/Phones 123.46 1.63%
Vocational Education 101.42 1.34%
Substitute Teachers 95.85 1.26%
Reading Specialists 64.09 0.84%
Textbooks 60.18 0.79%
Pre-K Staff 58.79 0.77%
Campus Supervisors 54.01 0.71%
School Psychologists 50.18 0.66%
Alternative/Non-traditional 44.84 0.59%
Nursing Services 38.57 0.51%
Instructional Supplies 32.88 0.43%
Security Services 26.85 0.36%
In-School Suspension 25.53 0.34%
Social Workers 25.07 0.33%
Attendance Services 10.24 0.13%
Adult & Community Ed 9.78 0.13%
Total 93.17%

District Expenses
Retiree Benefits 240.96 3.17%
Central Office/Legal 56.35 0.74%
Charter School Funding 54.06 0.71%
Human Resources 44.46 0.59%
Business Services/Mail 39.42 0.52%
Staff Development 28.83 0.38%
Property Tax Refunds 28.06 0.37%
Building Insurance 15.08 0.20%
Student Evaluation 11.24 0.15%
Total 6.83%

I would love to see a comparison from the 1980s.

din819go said...

Interesting conversation -- none of the spending listed takes into consideration the additional dollars raised by parents and spent on teachers, staff development, supplies, social workers/counselors, building wings, etc. It would be real interesting to see those dollars on a school by school basis. It will show a huge disparity in fund raising abilities. Still those are additional funds the schools receive for use on programs in the classroom or to benefit teachers.

Tom, you raise great points. However, I have asked and never heard when the school district, board, teachers, etc. will publicly (and loudly) say we are here to teach and that is it. Community we need you to step up and take care of the cultural issues -- i.e. poverty, violence, drugs, kids having kids, etc. All I see if the district take on more and more money with more strings attached and the education offered becomes worse and worse. The kids lose. What can parents or teachers or others do to return the district strictly to teaching. Yes, this move in and of itself should result in fewer dollars to the district and more dollars to state and local agencies.

Oh...Nashville has too many social agencies and not for profits do the same thing. We need to consolidate many many agencies and reduce administrative costs. This will enable more money to be spent directly on the programs offered not on the overhead to run them. Wonder when this will happen, too.