Once again, I was assaulted by a foul-titled Facebook forward (regarding schools and children, the author included the "f" bomb and was targeting Tea Party members for school closures).
Large urban school districts are being required to consider closing, or to actually close schools because of declining enrollment. The Los Angeles Unified School District has less enrollment now than it did in the 1998/99 school year, despite the fact that it counts self-funded charter schools located in the district as enrolled students. If the charter school students were not included, the district would have enrollment levels approaching those of the late 1980s and early 1990s. All of the lost enrollment has been to private schools, neighboring, functional districts, and charter schools.
Yet all public education should not be judged by huge, bloated, monstrous districts like LAUSD, which has an annual budget rivaling that of smaller U.S. states (you read that correctly).
School districts of a "normal" size (i.e. under 50,000 enrollment) are able to manage their classrooms, facilities, staff and students well. The extreme tragedy of the giant, bloated school districts is that they harm students, parents and teachers alike. Within such a monstrous thing as LAUSD are schools like Garfield High School, with high graduation rates, and virtually no on-campus violence. Schools like Garfield enjoy the involvement of hundreds of dedicated parents and the community as a whole. Garfield High School is almost 100% Latino. This isn't a racial problem. This is a giant school district and lazy constituent problem. It is the end result of years of careening mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of all adults connected with these huge districts and their management. In particular, it is fiscal and planning mismanagement.
Compare the giant districts to a moderate-sized district, Riverside Unified School District in Southern California. Riverside, a city of about 300,000, is demographically similar to most of the Los Angeles area. It is a largely Latino community with a significant, but not large, African-American population. Jobs pay less there and are harder to come by than in Los Angeles. There are pockets of poverty that are pretty serious, and there are plenty of homeless people, plenty of drugs, and plenty of other problems to go around.
But somehow, Riverside manages to keep teachers for 40 years, field great athletic teams, graduate 80% of its students, and of these, send more than three-quarters on to a college or university education.
Riverside Unified School District recently announced they would pay employees back the equivalent of 10 days furlough pay that the employees did without in 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years as the district began to financially recover and replenish its reserve funds. The district also used its reserve funds to continue operating during the state budget crisis that began in 2008. RUSD is the 15th largest district in California, with 42,000 students and 47 schools. Enrollment is relatively stable, with only 16 fewer students enrolled in the 2013-2014 school year. The District includes 26 California Distinguished Schools, 3 National Blue Ribbon Schools and 6 Federal Title I High Achieving schools. According to the District, "Riverside Unified was the first district in the nation to voluntarily integrate its schools, and today, more than 51 different languages are spoken by students and families."
Riverside achieves these results expending approximately 38% of what the Los Angeles Unified School District does per pupil. They spend 60% of their budget on teachers and the classroom.
Here's a chart to show the comparisons:
Click to enlarge.
Just as some credit cards promise "2% cash back!" but charge 5% or greater interest as compared to cards not offering this benefit, large school districts put their budgets in MILLIONS. Therefore, the total, appalling impact is muted.
Here are some notable facts about the 2013-2014 budgets for each of these three districts:
Per-pupil spending varies widely:
Riverside School District: $7,586.73
Chicago Public Schools: $13,565.95
Percentage of expenditures on teachers, classrooms (aides) and direct benefits (health, retirement).
LAUSD: 25% (not kidding - they can't have their budget lies both ways)
And here's an interesting expenditure. Chicago is upset because they've been asked as a district to contribute more to the crushing pension debt burden of their retirees.
However, they also expend almost 50% of the amount they spend on current teachers and benefits on debt service. Smaller districts have negligible debt service. Some, like Riverside, immediately made good on the salary teachers gave up during the economic and state budget crisis.
Riverside Debt Service: $166,700.00 (yes, one-hundred sixty-six thousand)
LAUSD Debt Service (this is "off budget" in some ways but is included in total expenditures): $1.6 billion (BILLION) - 13% of expenditures
Chicago Public Schools Debt Service: $613 million - 12% of budget.
Chicago has 378,042 students, possibly. It's hard to tell because it "weights" students to get, of course - more money. LAUSD with a projected enrollment of 655,635 (including charters that must pay for their own teachers, etc). CPS is not 10 times larger than Riverside Unified, yet its budget is nearly 20 times that of the smaller district.
In the case of LAUSD, where no money is sufficient under any circumstances, the grotesque differences should be obvious.
Imagine the raises teachers could receive, and the new teachers that could be hired, if it were not for more than $108 million in monthly debt payments.
Oh yeah. It's all the Tea Party's fault.
This is Chicago Teacher Union chief Karen Lewis. She says this is all the fault of rich white people.
Karen: $13,565 a year is more than most rich white people pay for private school tuition. And maybe if your union members see you can only get 40% of more than $5 billion annually for them, they might not like you so much.