There is no doubt that finding good, clear and actual information about any aspect of Delaware’s education system is like trying to find little needles within acres of haystacks.
And that’s probably by design.
But on the cost per pupil confusion, we wanted to give it another try, especially sympathizing with the stress exhibited by the Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee in trying to convince skeptical residents that a 21% tax hike is absolutely necessary.
So here goes.
According to the State of Delaware’s Online Checkbook, Christina School District had expenditures of $316,528,236.23 in Fiscal Year 2015. These expenditures were spread across 90,442 payments.
The 5 Divisions had expenditures as follows:
Autistic Office Administration – 7,259 payments – $31,028,376.41
Christina School District – 69,068 payments – $251,544,302.58
Option ILC – 6,529 payments – $13,546,877.22
Reach Office Administration – 3,407 payments – $8,932,515.91
Sterck Office Administration – 4,179 payments – $11,476,164.11
Proponents of the tax increase insist that cost per pupil is not $13,586 as it is listed on their state profile. They assert that when the specialty schools are factored out, cost per pupil is competitive with nearby private schools, which is $10,000 per pupil and under.
By the numbers, it appears they are partially correct. It may not be $13,586 per student. However, it may actually be more.
Enrollment in the district is down 3,680 students since 2006, yet school taxes have continued to increase. In 2014, there were 16,721 students.
In 2015, that number dropped to 16,255. For 2016, it dropped even further to 15,553 students.
Using the total of FY 2015 expenditures ($316.5M) and the 2014 enrollment number (16,721), FY 2015 cost per student comes to $18,929.98 per student.
Using the total of FY 2015 expenditures ($316.5M) and the 2015 enrollment number (16,255), FY 2015 cost per student comes to $19,472.67 per student.
However, referendum proponents want the specialty school numbers factored out. In good faith, we decided to do that.
The state profiles of the specialty schools do not list the enrollment of those schools. The 2015-2016 enrollment numbers for only 25 schools are listed, for a total of 14,170 students.
If expenditures remained the same for FY 2016 as they did for FY 2015, the Christina School District’s non-Autism/non-Option ILC/non-Reach/non-Deaf expenditures of $251.5M would fall to around $17,751.89 for each of the 14,170 students.
This is still $7.7K higher than the district insists their cost per pupil is, so we wanted to further work the numbers as best we could to the district’s advantage.
We decided to use the 2014 Total Enrollment number of 16,721 against the FY 2015 non-specialty school expenditures of $251.5M.
So, this would be including the students of the specialty schools while omitting the specialty school expenditures. It would also include over 1,000 students who are no longer in the district.
The result was $15,043.62 per student, still $5K more than the district claims.
But then we found this 2015 – 2016 special education data for the district:
Not knowing whether all 2,935 students counted under Special Education actually attend the specialty schools, we decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and subtract only those students who appear to be under autism (AUT: 465) or deaf (DD: 421) from the highest enrollment number possible (2014 enrollment), then use the FY 2015 non-specialty school expenditures and let the chips fall where they may.
$251,544,302.58 / 15,835 = $15,885.34 per student.
Yes, it is a mess. No doubt. But no matter how you slice it, CSD schools do not yet appear to be fiscally competitive with private schools in the area.
And even more importantly, their results are not even within reach of the cheaper, private institutions.
But that’s another discussion entirely.
You can access Delaware Online Checkbook at checkbook.delaware.gov.
You can access the 2015 – 2016 student enrollment data we compiled in this document, as part of a building consolidation assessment we are looking into.
That enrollment data was found on the state profile page of each school, under the “Student” tabs.
Please feel free to send any insight or additional findings to email@example.com.