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Snap Poll: School spending levels get poor grade

A new U.S. Census Bureau report shows New York continues to spend more per pupil than any other state—and the gap with the national average has increased.

A large majority of RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll respondents say per-pupil spending on public school education in New York is too high. This compares with 13 percent who say it’s about right, and just 3 percent who think schools should spend more.

In 2013-14, New York’s public elementary and secondary schools spent $20,600 per pupil, or 87 percent more than the national average of $11,009. Compared with the year before, New York’s spending was up 4 percent, while the U.S. average rose 2.7 percent.

New York’s 2013-14 spending per pupil was followed by the District of Columbia ($18,485), Alaska ($18,416), New Jersey ($17,907) and Connecticut ($17,745). Utah had the lowest per-pupil spending at $6,500.

The 2016 Rochester Business Journal Schools Report Card published last Friday detailed 2015-16 spending per pupil in public schools districts in Monroe and Ontario counties. Honeoye’s expenditures per pupil were highest at $29,636. Rochester ranked second, spending $28,071 per pupil. Victor’s per-pupil spending was lowest at $14,366. The average across the 27 districts was $22,362.

Poll respondents were split on how they graded the fiscal management of the public school district in which they reside. Roughly a third each rated their district as fair and poor. Slightly more than a quarter said their district is good at handling money, and just 6 percent answered excellent.

Those grades differ sharply from the results of a 2014 Snap Poll that posed the same question. In that poll, 62 percent of respondents rated the fiscal management in their school district as excellent or good.

In this week’s poll, most readers were positive about the quality of education at public schools in the district where they live. The plurality—40 percent—said it’s good, and 22 percent rated it excellent. In the 2014 poll, the results were 44 percent excellent and 37 percent good.

Nearly 670 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted June 13 and 14.

In your view, is per-pupil spending on public school education in New York too high, about right or too low?
Too high: 85%
About right: 13%
Too low: 3%

How would you rate the fiscal management of the public school district where you reside?
Excellent: 6%
Good: 27%
Fair: 34%
Poor: 33%

Overall, how would you rate the quality of education received by public school students in the district where you reside?
Excellent: 22%
Good: 40%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 14%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.

Thanks to the unions. Taxpayers paid through the nose for mediocre results.
—Patrick Ho

There are so many factors that go into the cost of schooling that it seems unfair to compare different states. For example, districts in some states go through buses faster than in other states due to winter weather. Also, districts pay more in gas taxes in some states than in others; same with energy costs, employee pensions, insurance, etc.
—Matthew D. Wilson

Goes to show it is not how much you spend, but how the money is being spent. East Irondequoit has the highest-paid supervisor in all of the districts, yet the school doesn’t rank well. How is it justified in spending this money?
—Jennifer Apetz

My wife works at RCSD, and the waste is atrocious. Teachers will start the year for weeks without books, yet there are levels of bureaucracy that are a parasite on the budget.
—Matthew Connolly

School taxes continue to be a runaway freight train of crushing expense for taxpayers with no end in sight. It is possible to provide quality education without the gargantuan budgets we have allowed to proliferate. We must demand far more from school boards and legislators to stop the madness.
—Robert B. Salmon, Penfield

What we spend to improve our children’s future should be the primary purpose of our taxes. However, what we spend on teachers and administration without holding them accountable is obscene. Our public school system obviously can’t educate our children as it is. We should dismantle it, and rebuild it from scratch.
—Joseph Lancaster, Cogenic Mechanical

The question behind the question is, “Is per-pupil spending effective?” The answer to making our schools more effective is not about spending, has never been about spending, and will not tomorrow be about spending. Until the taxpayers get rid of teachers unions and until two-parent families get serious about their children’s education—no matter how much more or how much less is spent—the results that we see will be the results which we are getting.
—Jay Birnbaum

The recent graduates we see applying for jobs are barely literate. They cannot write a clear, English paragraph or convey their thoughts in a one-page essay. They cannot do math without a calculator. They have virtually no knowledge of history—American or otherwise. They have never read the Constitution and have no knowledge of how our government works. I have watched as our own kids went through high school in a Rochester suburban district, and it seems like they spend more time on political indoctrination and non-core courses than on the basics of reading, writing, math and civics, like history. The fact that we spend so much is due to the union contracts and rules, which are so wasteful and unnecessary. It really seems like the New York education system is far more dedicated toward taking care of the teachers and staff than educating our young people for roles in today’s society. I wouldn’t mind spending the money if we got graduates who could read, write and talk intelligently.
—Bob Sarbane

Administration salaries are ridiculous. Way too many positions and benefits.
—Frank DeCiantis

Twenty-some years ago, we nearly doubled teacher salaries in the RCSD, and I was excited to see a radical increase in academic outcomes in the city. That never happened. Instead, graduation rates and other outcome measures continued to drop. Young couples love the city for its affordable houses, diversity, wonderful neighborhoods (like the 19th Ward) and great cultural life. Then when they face putting their children into city schools, they panic. To keep Rochester attractive in every way, we need a drastic solution to the disparity between high per-student RCSD costs and continuously declining educational quality. There are some fantastic teachers in the RCSD, but the system as a whole is an abject failure. And it’s not just Rochester. Public schools’ failure to serve our children is rampant in the U.S. More money doesn’t seem to be the answer. I wish I knew what was.
—Ken Maher

School taxes strangle the New York economy for most households. It keeps property values down since potential buyers have to factor in the cost of the taxes plus the mortgage into a monthly payment. The kids are not smarter because the taxes are higher. If you are young, leave New York State before you buy property. If you are old, leave New York State if you can afford to.
—Mark Williams

Of course per-pupil spending is too high! In my opinion, there are two reasons. First, there are too many school districts. Too many school districts, superintendent salaries and all the other overhead associated with a school district. I would love to see a comparison on number of students per school district with other states. Second reason is probably embezzlement. Seems like every other month there is a news story of someone embezzling from a school district. Most probably never get caught. If all this overspending resulted in excellent schools, I’d be fine with that. But I doubt if Rochester’s schools, one of the most expensive, has the same quality as Victor schools, one of the least expensive.
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester

Just wondering: Does spending the most per pupil make New York a higher-achieving state? How efficiently is the money being distributed? Would more privatization of schools make a difference? How much longer can this be sustainable? It seems to me this is a one-sided spiraling out of control situation that needs to be honestly assessed. If any business was operated this way, it would be long gone.
—Todd Black, Black’s Hardware

The public (government) education system in New York State has been hijacked by the public unions. That is why our education costs are a reported 87 percent higher than U.S. average with mediocre results. High school graduation rates (and) SAT and ACT scores of high school students of New York State are only modestly better than the average. The real solution to education reform is to create competition through vouchers, school choice and private competition including charter schools. The public unions are the biggest impediment to better education and lower taxes. Therefore, “Right to Work” legislation should be enacted immediately to break up the public union mob. It worked in Wisconsin. “Right to Work” legislation was also recently enacted in Indiana and Michigan. This results in better education results, lower taxes and more economic vitality.
—John Rynne

Question No. 3 above is another example of a poorly conceived poll. The quality of education received in my district is good to very good, but it begs the question of whether I’m getting a good value for my spending.
—Keith B. Robinson, Diamond Packaging

Spending is too high if measured by the results. When it is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher because of union tenure rules you know the system is broken. The constant demand for “more resources” never seems to lead to better results. Many elected school boards are populated by educators. On its face, that looks OK. But in reality it seems a lot like “insider trading” is on Wall Street. School boards negotiate with the teachers’ contracts. Pay and benefits are 90 percent of school budgets. If one district raises pay and benefits, the others must follow suit to “remain competitive.” It’s a cycle that drives up cost but not results. More emphasis needs to be on outcomes!
—George Thomas, Ogden

Results speak for themselves. Money alone does not make quality. As long as the educational system in New York is controlled by bandit politicians and selfish teachers’ unions, this will not change.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

While the educational quality is excellent in the suburbs what is going on in the city is a shameful blot on our reputation as a city. We need to dedicate whatever resources it takes to bring the city residents educational experience up to par with the suburbs, if we are to survive as a vibrant cultural center. Furthermore the amount that all school spend on athletics vs. academics is shameful. We should not be spending state money on athletic fields, pools, performance centers and other non-academic facilities. If people want to fund those things let them voluntarily (not through taxes) pay for them. If we just dedicated the millions and millions spent on athletic facilities on educating students and coaching inner city kids we could become a thought leader in urban education.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

Did someone say, “You get what you pay for”? New York schools are among the best in the U.S. and offer more to children and families than schools in other “bargain” states. New York State academics are excellent; our arts and athletics offer more and better options for many more kids than many states—especially those where “pay to play” is the funding rule.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT

Let’s see: Taxpayers contribute more than $500,000 to a class of 25 students. The teacher is paid about $60K (plus benefits and FICA). So, that leaves more than $400K for other stuff. How much of that goes to administrators, state and local bureaucrats, compliance with federal regulations, etc.? The governor likes to scapegoat teachers for failing schools and school districts. The real culprit is incompetent government, bureaucratic rules and too many administrators. Cut that nonsense out and let the teachers do their jobs. Then we will have better results at a lower cost to the taxpayers.
—John Calia, Fairport

Why are the costs so high? Is it pensions? Fringe benefits? Building costs? Too many administrators? Salaries? Turnover? What makes N.Y. so expensive?
—Bruce Anderson

If you look at a chart of per-pupil spending, New York State is an outlier with spending that is vastly higher than other states. My hometown school in Ohio, which was one of the best in the county spends $10,505 per pupil.
—Damian Kumor

The devil is in the details. A breakdown of the per-pupil spending in New York State as compared with our peer group states will reveal where the money goes. Is it spent on directly on student-related educational endeavors and initiatives, or on exorbitant teacher/administrator benefit and retirement plans that are out of line with national averages.
—Paul Hohensee, Webster

I don’t know how to dispute that spending is not too high based on overall national stats. What I would like to understand is what is driving these high costs compared to states with the same level of success, but much lower cost. Beside Alaska/DC, all of the top spenders are in the Northeast. Why is New York almost double the national average and $14,100 more than Utah? We have some excellent public schools, but I am not sure the schools are two to three times better than similar schools around the country. … Might be time to reduce some of the consultancy fees, large testing costs, costly studies on how to improve education, and let the teachers teach
—Keith Newcomer

Why ask a question with such an obvious answer. Are N.Y. students 87 percent ahead in reading, math, science, composition, history and all the rest? Some of the finest U.S. private universities charge annual tuition not vastly greater than the average per pupil cost of a run-of-the-mill N.Y. public school student. Does any of this sound profoundly irrational? How on earth do N.Y. parents routinely pass school budgets that would make taxpayers around the country revolt at the perverted budgetary requirements imposed by local school districts. School taxes in this state are a travesty.
—R. Tarantello, associate professor, University of Southern California (retired)

I just wish we could spend more. Maybe if we forced the grounds staff to eliminate the use of gardening tools we could increase the cost of running a school. Or if we send the teachers to graduate school for underwater basket weaving? I think I’m on to something!
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester

The average suburban school district’s cost is about 72-75% labor and benefits, and labor negotiations are handled by superintendents, business managers and attorneys with a vested interest in keeping the unions happy and no strikes. School boards aren’t much help either because most board members are parents with children in school and don’t want to see their kids impacted. Thus, there’s little incentive for school districts to get per-pupil costs under control.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

This shows what you can do when you throw money at a problem. Since the NYS Teachers’ Union is the biggest donor to the New York State politicians, this spending situation won’t change any time soon.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC

When students fail to write—how can they be educated? Example A: Byron Bergen Central School graduating senior applied for a scholarship-his name printed on the line-above the line and below the line. He didn’t make it!
—John Sackett, former teacher

Education is now all about being politically correct and teaching for state and Common Core tests than learning. RBJ needs to do more investigative reporting on the corrupt Cuomo administration and its ties to Pearson. Pearson is a private corporation whose tentacles dominate kid’s education and has writhed countless taxpayer dollars in return for little or no value. Not even children’s education can escape the overbearing corruption and waste in this state. Why are some of the best schools doing so well with less funding? Meanwhile in Rochester, nothing changes no matter how much well-meaning money is thrown at a societal problem no amount of money can solve…but onwards and downwards they go.
—David Shaw

6/17/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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