Mythbusters: School Tax Edition

Got this comment on CSDWeAllWin’s Facebook page today.

Today I had a friend say all the programs and cuts Christina school district was making is nuts. All because people wont sign a referendum. My answer was Christina School district asked for almost 100% raise in funding on their first attempt. This was highway robbery. They then asked for I believe a 15% increase and it was shot down… You know why??? Everyone I talked to who googled the referendum, saw the previous request. They thought their taxes were doubling. The district did this to its self… So lets do a little math and see if the money is spent correctly. 2014 budget 228 million dollars. 16255 students. That is $14,026.45 / student. I googled the “average private school tuition 19711″… the answer was $11970.00. If it can be funded privately for 2000 less per student and provide a better education… Something isn’t adding up. We cant continue to throw money at a mismanaged program. I really don’t want to hear go to a budget meeting. I want to hear my math is either incorrect or why we should pay $2000.00 more per student for your education. What is better? I’m beginning to think the whole system should be private. Talk me off this ledge please.

So let’s go.  Sorry they don’t want to hear “go to a budget meeting”.  But GO TO A BUDGET MEETING!  Public school finances are too damn complex to talk about on Facebook and really get a solid handle on them.  But why not try again?

Their math isn’t wrong but it is the wrong kind of math. Districts do not determine per student funding by adding up the budget and dividing by the number of kids enrolled, although that seems like a much better way to do it than the way it’s done now.

Christina, and all districts in Delaware, have little control over how much money is spent on each student. Nearly all the formulas used to figure that out come directly from the State of Delaware. However much money the State determines each student “deserves” *in total*, Christina foots approximately 35% of it through property taxes.

In previous years, the District was responsible for <30% of the cost. Over the last 8 years the State has continued to chip away at the amount of money spent on education. This year is no different. The State raised the amount each student must get by 0.52% and at the same time said they wouldn’t be funding that increase, which means local money from each District has to cover that increase.

Christina School District per student general ed funding

This is the breakdown of our non-special services, regular education per student funding for 2015-16 school year. This is the amount of money, collected through our property taxes, that Christina School District spends per student. We, in this District, do not pay $14,000 per student. We pay an average of $3,913 per student in grades K-12. So what the hell is that $13,000 cost per student number you find on the District profile on Delaware Dept of Ed’s website? That’s an average of ALL sources of funding for our students, that’s all money that comes from the State + all money that comes from the District + all money that comes via the Federal gov’t that rolls up to an AVERAGE cost per student in our District.  It is NOT what we pay from property taxes per student.

You can pay $12,000 to send your child to a private school in Newark. But you, the parent, are paying that entire $12,000 for your child. Send your child to a public school, and you’re paying a fraction of what it costs to deliver an education to your child.

My property tax bill for schools last year (on my $189,000 townhome assessed at $50,000 ) was around $1,120. I have two children in the District. I paid $560 in taxes for each of their educations last year. If I had both of them in private school, my school tax would still have been $1,120. Plus $24,000 for private tuition. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell can’t afford $25,120 a year for school right now.

The current total *school tax* rate is $2.09/$100 assessed value of property. Of that $2.09, $1.42 of it is the *Operating Tax* rate. The Operating Tax rate is what was up for referendum twice. (I won’t get into the New Castle County Tax Pool dipping into that $1.42, that’s another discussion).

The first increase that the BOARD wanted (not the District) was, I believe, $0.65 phased in over 3 years. OMG THAT’S 46% INCREASE IN TAX……RATE. Increase in your tax RATE. That does NOT = a 46% increase in your taxes paid. Why?

Let’s say that $0.65 was approved, and it all went into effect right away. The rate went from $2.09 to $2.74. The tax RATE is now $2.74/$100 of assessed value. For my house @ $50,000, my NEW school tax bill this year would be: $50,000/$100 = 500. 500 x $2.74 = $1,370

$1,370 is not double of $1,120. So what % increase is that in my ACTUAL taxes paid? $1,370-$1,120= $250 $250/$1,120 = 0.223 x 100 = 22.3% increase. Not even close to doubling.

Well we know the first time failed hard. So what if the second time passed? The DISTRICT asked for and the Board approved a $0.37 increase phased in over 3 years. Let’s take the same scenario. It passed, and all $0.37 went in right away. Our new tax RATE is $2.46/$100.

My new tax bill is: $50,000/$100 = 500. 500 x $2.46 = $1,230. Well how much did it go up this time?! $1,230-$1,120= $110. $110/$1,120 = 0.098 x 100 = 9.8% tax increase. Again, not even close to doubling.

Again, total budget/# students isn’t wrong math but it doesn’t do jack to help figure out how we spend money per-student and whether or not the money is being spent “correctly”.

I said before, during, and now after the referendum, I’m available to talk to anyone about this. I’ll answer any question you throw at me. If you don’t want to come to a budget meeting (although you should), I’ll come to you. Public school finances in this State are not easy to understand. It’s way too damn complex, but I’m willing to help anyone get a better understanding of it. Google won’t do anything for you. Talk to someone who actually knows something about how it works (or doesn’t work).


8 thoughts on “Mythbusters: School Tax Edition”

  1. Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    Brian with Those In Favor gets this tricky funding formula in the state of Delaware. While I hear everyone complaining about referendums causing tax increases, we don’t hear jack (pun intended) about the state slowly decreasing the amount they are giving to fund schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian, isn’t a related issue, in any public/private school funds comparison, the fact that many CSD kids receive services not generally available at a private school? I don’t know how those “district average” figures are tallied, but if they are simply expenditures (using funds from all sources) divided by total students, then any public district with high special needs populations will appear to spend more per student than private schools. The vast majority of private schools do not accept students with special needs–they leave that task to the publicly funded schools. The small number of private schools that do cater specifically to higher needs students, like UD’s College School, cost much more than the average private school figure; upwards of $20K annually. If we want to compare public and private financial efficiency, we need to look at what a district spends on students who are roughly similar to private school students (English speakers, no complex special needs, no social service staff as is often necessary for high-poverty student populations). Some basic special needs are addressed at private schools, but the cost of those is (I believe) covered by the state. Tuition is not calibrated to cover those services.


    1. With respect to the canard of CSD spending more on students than do non-district schools, the solution is in the weighted-average math. Eve Buckley is right, you have to compare apples to apples on Title-1 and on Special Ed (basic, complex and intense). My guess is that there is not a big difference between the two systems on an apples to apples basis. (Eve, orange you in agreement? 🙂 )

      Here is the problem: districts do not publish costs by school nor do they publish costs by identifiable group nor do they publish costs by academic area (e.g., Math, English, Social studies, CTE, or “all other”). They have the data, or at least they have the capability to easily gather it, but they don’t publish it. We can speculate as to why.

      Let’s collect the data. By classroom, academic subject, category of student, etc. Not the funding data. The EXPENDIDITURE data. Once we see that, we can all have a rational discussion about costs. I am willing to speculate that the data will not validate many of the presumptions spouted on various blogs or on various schools boards.


      1. I don’t like speculation or presumption. Districts publish student cost by level of educational need (category) in their annual budgets 2014-15 Unit Count. Take the number of students in a category, multiply by the per-student funding and that’s your expense per student category. For the purpose of comparing private to public, I exclude Title I funds and additional funds for Basic, Intensive, Complex categories because private schools do not service a measurable

        They also publish building budget data. 2015 Building Budgets

        The cost per student in my post is what the district spends per student. Budgets are expenditures but they also include sources of funding for those expenses, because that is necessary and helpful information. This is Christina’s 2014-15 final budget.

        I’m not sure what you mean exactly by compare apples to apples on Title I, Basic, Intensive and Complex student categories between private and public schools?


    2. Yes Eve, the figures found on DDOE’s website are anything other than helpful when it comes to figuring out per-student expense. That’s why I put the table right from the District’s budget in my post. Those figures are the cost per student for children in the general education setting in the District. It is not an average, but a direct cost per student. It does not include costs that would be related to social services, IEPs or other higher needs service categories (Basic, intensive, complex). It’s the most accurate way we can compare private school tuition to the cost per student in a public school.


  3. A 22% tax increase is still a “whopper” in many people’s eyes. 22% here, 22% there, and sooner or later we’re talking real money. The voters spoke.

    You made an excellent case for why it is personally more effective to have other people pay for the education of your child. That is not and was not the point.

    You avoided the point of the original comment … why does the district spend $2000 more to education a child than do non-district schools? I can think of many reason why but the pocket-book argument is not one of them.

    While we all ponder the cost mentiond above, here is a fact to ponder: Christina actually thought logically. ( Yes, I said it. ) Accordingly to a union leader blog-commenting on another site, the district actually went to the union leadership and said “Look, we need to take out X dollars so let’s see if we can agree on a 2% across the board salary cut to get there and that way no services or students will be affected, and no employees need to lose their jobs.” A very logical and humane proposal.

    The union leadership said “No, that is not worth it. We (the leadership) would rather than you cut our ranks according to the contract”. The contract calls for cuts to be with the least-service teachers (translation: lowest-paid) (further observation: Not necessarily the least effective). So instead of everyone walking in lockstep as a team and taking at 2% cut, the leadership threw the “lesser service” members (who also pay dues) under the bus and it took an employment discharge of nearly FIVE percent of them to make the budget number.

    2% from all? Or 100% from the 5% of newest employees? Seems like it was every woman for herself in that situation. Nearly 100 people lost 100% of their income so that the higher-paid other 95% didn’t have to suffer the “indignity” of a 2% cut. I’m sure the students and familes would rather that the 2% offer had been accepted.

    The layoffs lay squarely at the feet of union leadership.


    1. A 2% reduction would not have saved all teachers that lost positions this year either. Every year Districts go through a process where they reduce the number of teachers on the payroll in advance of knowing how many students will be enrolled for the coming year, and yes it is the least senior of the teachers that get cut first as part of the language in the contract agreement.

      Regardless of how the union determines who is laid off first, layoffs (aka: ‘excess’ or ‘reductions in force) are done that way so Districts have the ability to recall teachers when they have more concrete enrollment number in September rather than run the risk of retaining too many teachers and not having sufficient enrollment to earn State funding to pay those teachers. That system is terrible but it is the one required by the State. The projected enrollment going into this school year would have necessitated the layoff of a larger number of teachers this year compared to last year, the budget concerns exaggerated that number. I find it very short sighted to lay blame on any one group of people, no one factor has layoffs squarely at their feet.

      I also don’t feel I missed the point. The commenter’s point was that “Why does it cost $2,000 more to educate a kid in public school”. My answer was, it doesn’t. Or at least cannot be determined by an average tuition price. It’s great that we can Google up the average private school tuition in one zip code of New Castle County, but I can’t reconcile an average private school tuition cost with a District per-student expense. Tuition is one piece of a private school’s expenditure on students.

      I’m okay with helping to pay for other parents’ children to be educated.


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