Wherein the DO and the DISD Have a Math-Off Concerning Per-Pupil Expenditures

Categories: Schutze
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On Tuesday of this week Dallas Independent School District spokesman Jon Dahlander responded to questions I had asked him last week for my column this week about per-pupil expenditures at high school campuses. Unfortunately, his response by e-mail reached me several days after my deadline had passed. Mr. Dahlander is a busy man these days and has a lot more to do in this world than answer questions for me, so I won't hold it against him that he replied after my deadline.

I only regret that I wasn't able to reflect his information in what I wrote, which is what I intend to do here.

I had sent Dahlander a sampling of results I was getting from my own study of per-pupil expenditures in the Dallas school system. This had to do with the battle over proposed budget cuts at magnet schools and the argument by Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and a majority of the school board that the magnet program is a playground for the children of effete white golf-playing nannycrats. My findings indicated not.

In fact, the magnet budgets came out looking relatively modest next to per-pupil expenditures at the prison school, the pregnant school and even the superintendent's family's high school, Hillcrest. I got my numbers by taking the total campus budget for each high school and dividing it by the total enrollment. I took those numbers from the Texas Education Agency in Austin, because the TEA collects data in a uniform fashion statewide from all school districts. The budget pages on the Dallas Independent School District Web site, in contrast, read like a brochure for a Russian cruise ship. Lots of glowing faces, not much detail.

Why don't I just go ahead and share with you all of my findings, which I only summarized in the column. I apologize in advance, but the names of the schools in this Excel file are somewhat abbreviated in my spreadsheet, since I was doing this for my own purposes, not for publication. The columns are 1) name of school, 2) total budget for school 3) total enrollment and 4) expenditure per student (budget divided by enrollment).

And here you go.

Now, here is Dahlander's response, in full:
"Using 2008 AEIS campus reports and dividing them by total enrollment to come up with an average per pupil expenditure is not a valid comparison of the way that the U.S. Department of Education requires districts to submit campus comparability reports. There are a number of factors involved and the guidelines are much more complex.

"Having said that, it is true that Maya Angelou High School has more funding per student than most other campuses. The school serves pregnant teens and new mothers. Its enrollment, which is currently around 60 students, varies from month to month. Because of its unique mission and low number of students that it serves, the school is excluded from comparability calculations by the federal government.

"Madison High School's per pupil expenditure is higher than that of most high schools in the district. As a result, it will be subject to funding reductions to bring it within the Title I guidelines which require no school to be funded at more than 10% of the average per-pupil expenditure in schools that serve similar grade spans -- in this case, at the high school level and serving less than 1,200 students.

"Using the Title I comparability manual, the average per pupil expenditures for both the TAG Magnet and Science and Engineering Magnet are above the 110% threshold. TAG's per-pupil expenditure, using the Title I criteria, is $9,430.14. Science/Engineering is $7,311.45. The average for high schools with smaller student populations is $6,539.06. Two schools that fall below the 90% criteria include Seagoville High School at $5,496.72 and A. Maceo Smith High School at $5,564.93.

"Through continued conversations with the Texas Education Agency, the district has determined that magnet schools must be included within the comparability study but are not subject to the provisions of the 90-110% criteria. Even still, the current recommendation calls for the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center to be funded next year at 125% of the standard comprehensive formula and Booker T. Washington to be funded at 117% of the standard comprehensive formula. The district has been working with principals at these campuses to minimize the impact so as to maintain the quality of the programs as much as possible."
My response to Dahlander's response would be this:

I know full well that my method of coming up with per-student expenditures is not the same method used by DISD. Dahlander characterizes the DISD method as "the way that the U.S. Department of Education requires districts to submit campus comparability reports." In fact, the USDE and TEA requirements allow a good deal of creativity in devising comparability numbers.

We know, of course, that fiscal creativity is a particular skill or vice, as the case may be, of the Dallas school district. I just thought my much simpler method might give us all a kind of touchstone for comparison's sake.

But notice this: Even Dahlander's substantially higher per-pupil expenditure at Booker T. -- his $9,430.14 versus my $8,542 -- wouldn't budge its position in the table. It's still No. 5, lower than four non-magnet high schools.

Just thought it was interesting is all.

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