This coming 2009-10 school year, public schools in Anderson County District One are slated to receive funding of $8,194 per child.
Of that sum, $4,053 comes from state government, $656 from the federal government, and $3,485 is locally raised.
Based on those figures (published by the SC Legislature), and with a student population of 9,168, the district’s total budget should be $75 million.
The same Board Trustees also raised personal property taxes on secondary homes, rental properties, vehicles and businesses from a millage of 112 to 118.9. Only one trustee, Wendy Tucker, fought against the hike.
So why the $54.2 million figure? Where is the other $21 million?
Based on the limited information school officials have publicized about last year’s budget, it seems Trustees are not reporting all the money they plan to spend in their budget.
In fact, federal funding (at least $6 million worth for 2009-10) appears to be totally excluded. The payments owed for debt service are also backed-out, as well as hundreds of dollars per student in state funding.
From Liz Carey of the Anderson Independent Mail:
The district’s budget last year was based on a per student cost of $2,578. Because of falling state revenue, this year the state authorized a $2,032 base student cost. Money from the federal stimulus package added another $300 per student, bringing the base student cost to $2,334.
Carey cites the base student cost of $2,334, but does not explain how this figure is merely used for calculating the local/state contribution and the weighted student formula, with the actual average state funding adding up to $4,053 for students across the district.
In other words there is $1,719 in state money per student not counted in the published media reports.
That’s because funding is sent from the state government based on “weighted pupil units” not merely the number of children seated in classrooms. In 2008 for example there were 8,832 students counted in the Average Daily Membership (ADM) figures, but funding was calculated for over 11,000 “weighted pupils” since each child has unique characteristics (grade level, learning needs, etc…) that drive up the funding associated with them. Adding to the confusion, almost half of state funding is not student-based, coming down in the form of grants, programmatic spending, and line item budget categories both inside the General Fund and through other state funds.
Interestingly, Anderson County School District ran a massive budget surplus of $6.7 million in 2007, but it’s taxpayer funded publicists and Superintendent Wayne Fowler went on the record insisting that cuts would increase class size and even reduce student achievement.
Those sorts of exaggerated and alarmist claims set the stage for this year’s tax hikes -despite the fact that officials already knew another $2 million in federal bailout money was on the way.
In 2008, the district’s surplus rose to $10,137,000.
Even more confusing, not only are the publicized budget figures released by the Board of Trustees and School District mismatched with the data in the South Carolina State Budget, they are also inconsistent with numbers from the district’s own audited financial statements.
- The district reported a budget of $55.1 million
- …the district auditors identified $66.7 million in “governmental fund type revenues”
- …and lawmakers in Columbia planed for a total of $78 million in local, state and federal funds
Parents and taxpayers in Anderson deserve an explanation of the smoke-and-mirrors budgeting before enduring yet another tax hike.
They also need to be assured that spending in Anderson School District One is actually reaching the classroom and properly impacting student achievement.
According to figures from the US Department of Education, only 61.59% of 9th graders attending high school in the district will go on to receive a full diploma in four years. That is hardly a sound return on either $54 million or a $75 million investment.