Concerns Over Schools Are Real
Data Given in Reply Misleading
August 29, 2019
In Bruce Lebedoff Anders reply pointing out “the errors of my concerns,” he failed to take note of the second sentence on page eight of the district’s 2019-20 budget, titled “EXPENDITURES” where it explicitly states that 91.49% of the district’s unrestricted funding is for personnel.
I’ll stick by the district’s accounting figures rather than the one Mr Anders cherry-picked off the same page.
Playing with the Budget
Proposed budgets establish district priorities, but are not set in stone. They are only "guestimates" of next year’s spending. Board-adopted budgets are not legally binding; things happen during the school year, so, they are only approximations.
I say this, because for the last five years, outside auditors have found that board members have not publicly shown, on average, over $2,000,000 dollars in deficit spending. When compared to the ten-year pre-recession era, which had annual budget changes of around $250,000 in surplus-at the end of their fiscal year-make these undisclosed expenditures quite alarming.
Money = Learning?
Mr Anders had to go back almost ten years to find (European) research substantiating his belief that spending more money on education will automatically leads to more learning.
Note: The 26 country survey-referenced by Mr Anders-didn’t actually say that a 10% increase in salaries in the US would buy a 5% to 10% increase in student performance. The 5% to 10% increase claimed would only be seen when all 26 countries were grouped together. It makes me wonder if the US numbers used had a positive or a negative influence on the report’s final result.
His figures on the latest reported CAASPP test results for the CCUSD in English Language Arts/Literacy and in Mathematics are accurate. But he failed to put them into a historical perspective, with previous years. Let’s take a look at Culver City’s local progress in light of the board’s agreeing to such a generous compensation plan over those same years.
The State divides CAASPP results into four categories: Standard Exceeded, Standard Met, Standard Nearly Met and Standard Not Met.
To see how well Culver City USD did over the past years, like Mr Anders, I took the top three categories and added them together for each of the three previous years shown on the EdData website.
For the 2014-15 English test, 85% of CCUSD students Exceeded or Met or Nearly Met the state standards. In 2015-16, again, that figure was 85%. In 2016-17, it went up to 86.1% and in 2017-18, it went up again to 86.9%.
In Math, the percentage of students, in 2014-15, testing Nearly Meeting the state standard or better was 76%. In 2015-16, it was 77%. In 2016-17, it rose to 77.8% and for 2017-18, it again rose to 78.7%.
The total, four-year increase in test scores in English (1.9%) and Math (2.7%) show steady progress has been made. But, they don’t even come close to matching the study’s claim of 5% to 10%, referenced by Mr Anders.
Over that same four-year period, the costs of CCUSD staff compensation, increased dramatically. Certificated salaries increased 33.27% and district benefits rose a whopping 85%.
According to Mr Anders, our students’ scores should have gone up about 15%. Good, solid progress was made, but was not even close to the rate of what Mr Anders suggested. So, this shows, at least locally, that there was no direct correlation between what teachers earn and how much our students learn.
Fiscal Restraint Needed
It is not the fault of the teachers that previous boards did not have the fiscal gumption to keep better control over these generous increases. To make matters even worse, board members decided to deficit spend to help pay for some of the increases. Their increases were so out of control that they ended up taking teachers’ pay well beyond the agreed-to goal of the LA County median salary.
My beef is with the Board, not with the teachers, themselves, as some would like to portray. It is the Board’s fault for giving into the union’s wants and by spending our reserves down to historically low levels to help pay for it.
Sure, the CCUSD has to pay fair wages. But, first and foremost, our board members must keep district spending within its means. Board members spending got so far out of hand that they had to beg the community for a seven-year, $2,500,000 annual parcel tax to bail them out.
Local district unions can ask for anything they want. Union reps are not responsible for keeping the district fiscally solvent, school boards are. Our local teachers union has even publicly asked that their salaries be raised so that they would be in the Top Ten of LA County.
If local union reps can persuade board members to lavish their members with extravagant pay increases, MORE POWER TO THEM!
But, as taxpayers, it is our responsibility to elect community leaders who will oversee the spending of federal, state and our local funding in a more measured manner; thereby, keeping our school district on sound fiscal ground.