Friday, February 17, 2006

Education, Property Taxes and Regional Cooperation

I've been thinking about a comment ChrisMC made down in the It's All About Popular comment section, during our discussion of property taxes:

Not that regionalizing services isn't a worthwhile endeavor. But get out the back of your nearest envelope and figure out in dollars what that really means. Not so much, certainly not a sea-change.

The elephant on the table (no pun) is education spending. Something like 70% of your local budget expenditures across the state. Nobody actually talks about it, because it is the third rail of municipal politics, which is to say State politics as well.

Education is, indeed, where the bulk of municipal spending goes. In my own Enfield, over $60 million of an $88 million budget went to the town's public schools in 2002. Towns seem to spend between half and 3/4 of their budget on education.

Why?

Education eats money. There's the cost of buildings, teachers, supplies, buses, lunches, administration, other staff and so on. These costs increase every year, and are made worse by the constant pressure from governments for higher test scores.

Despite the huge expenditures, though, the fact of the matter is that our school system is barely limping along. We don't have enough teachers, students are stuck in study halls instead of in elective courses, teachers often feel (correctly) that their salaries are low compared to other professions, buildings are inadequate and falling apart, textbooks are outdated, access to computers is inconsistent, school lunches are miserable... the list goes on. Worst of all, our students may be heading for college and the workforce without the skills they need to succeed.

It isn't just us. This is happening all across the country, despite the fact that more and more money is being spent on education every year, with no end in sight.

So we're stuck, for now. Regionalizing school districts--really regionalizing them--might help. Annoyingly, even the smallest towns in Connecticut seem to have their own school districts (Union, which has about 700 people, has its own K-8 school with 77 students--they go to Stafford for high school). Regional school districts only really exist at the high school (and sometimes middle school) level: local elementary schools are kept within the towns. Each town school district has its own superintendent, even if the only school within that district is an elementary school. Andover, for example, has its own board of ed and school superintendentent, despite the fact the there is exactly one school in town (middle and high school students attend Region 8 schools in Hebron). Staffing costs are a big chunk of education expenditures, so if each regional district had control of all the schools in the region, money would be saved.

It's a very small start, true. But, short of turning all educational expenses over to the state or some other sort of radical reform, small changes may be all that we're able to do, right now. It's difficult to make radical changes in education, if only because it is so crucial.

On the other hand, reducing education expenses would solve, for the most part, our property tax problems. It's worth persuing.

4 comments:

Genghis Conn said...

testing... comments seem to be working...

Independent1 said...

GC, just one comment, in Enfield, per the latest Strategic School Profile, only 54% of the school expense is paid for by local taxes, the rest from state and fed grants.

the wandererr said...

To put it in more "business"-like terms then, what is not happening is productivity improvements. rants Chris McC in an earlier post on the subject. And tell me why we can't expect better productivity from the education establishment.

Chris MC said...

Wrong question, predictable exchange, another waste of time.

Give the proposition some thought instead.