Saturday, March 14, 2015

Examining The Southbridge School Budget

Ken O’Brien

Speaking in the March 13 issue of The Southbridge News, Acting Superintendent of Schools Sheryl Stanton said, “We are not seeing the increase to the overall school budget that we need to impact some of the high priority issues. We need more people aware and educated of this. We need to make an argument as to why these expenditures are required.”

In order to look at the district’s budget in a meaningful fashion, I have taken the most recently available data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. This data compares the FY 2014 budgetary data for 307* of the State’s school districts on an aggregate as well as a per pupil basis. (

We can look at the place Southbridge takes on a comparative basis in terms of per pupil spending versus other districts. On this basis Southbridge ranks 96th out of the 307 ranked lowest to highest.

The following funding sources are all included in the functional expenditure per pupil measure.
  • school committee appropriations
  • municipal appropriations outside the school committee budget that affect schools
  • federal grants
  • state grants
  • circuit breaker funds
  • private grants and gifts
  • school choice and other tuition revolving funds
  • athletic funds
  • school lunch funds
  • other local receipts such as rentals and insurance receipts

Categories of spending reported in the Expenditure per Pupil calculations follow the order of the ESE chart of accounts:

 However, it is important to distinguish between in-district and out-of-district per pupil expenditures when making this comparison. As the DESE website notes:
Most school spending goes toward educating local resident pupils in local schools. However, about five percent of the nearly one million public school children in Massachusetts are enrolled in publicly-funded settings outside the district. School districts pay tuition for pupils at special education schools, charter schools, and other placements. Transportation costs often add to the expense.
The first ten functional categories are for services provided within the school district. In those categories, per pupil calculations are limited to the pupils enrolled at the district. An "in-district" per pupil expenditure is calculated for these functions and measures what is spent on the pupils enrolled at the district.
For the eleventh category (programs with other school districts), tuition and transportation outlays are divided by the number of pupils they pay for. An "out-of-district" per pupil expenditure is calculated for this cohort of pupils. This measure can be difficult to interpret when comparing districts, because it is typically a combination of high-cost special education placements and lower-cost school choice, charter school, and other out-of-district settings.
The "total per pupil expenditure" includes all eleven categories of spending, and combines both groups of students.

Contrary to what might be expected, Southbridge (at least in terms of the FY 2014 data) changes its standing substantially when only the expenditures per pupil within the district are considered. In this case Southbridge jumps from 96th place to 156th place. In essence, based upon per pupil expenditures, restricted to within the district spending, Southbridge goes from the bottom third of all districts to slightly above the median.

Additional insight is gained by taking the categories established by the DESE’s Chart of Accounts above and examining where Southbridge ranks from lowest to highest among the 307 districts ranked.

                                                                  Southbridge’s                       Per Pupil
Category                                                         Rank                            Expenditure
Administration                                                207                                  $  606.55
Instructional leadership                                   126                                      832.26
Classroom and specialist teachers                     52                                   4,676.90
Other teaching services                                   269                                   1,697.69
Professional development                                 50                                        63.24
Instructional materials,
    technology and equipment                          172                                      380.69
Guidance and psychological                             68                                      328.15                        
In-district transportation and
    other pupil services                                     266                                   1,933.67
Maintenance                                                    129                                   1,071.38
Employee benefits and fixed charges               78                                   1,875.08

It is readily apparent from this that Southbridge ranks significantly above the median (in fact above the top third) in three areas – Other teaching services, In-district transportation & other pupil services; and Administration.

Other teaching services are broken down into 2315 - Instructional Coordinators and Team Leaders (Non-Supervisory) – Includes curriculum facilitators, instructional team leaders and department chairs that are non-supervisory; and 2340 - Librarians and Media Center Directors.

In-district transportation & other pupil services are broken down into 3100 - Attendance and Parent Liaison Services; 3200 - Health Services; 3300 - Student Transportation Services (To and from school); 3400 - Food Services; 3510 - Athletic Services; 3520 - Other Student Activities; and 3600 - School Security.

Administration includes 1100 - General Administration; 1200 - District Administration; and 1400 - Finance and Administrative Services (includes legal).

Conversely Southbridge, on the basis of per pupil expenditures, ranks significantly below the median in Professional development; Classroom and specialist teachers; Guidance and psychological; and Employee benefits and fixed charges.

I would think that, as a starting point in evaluating the district’s budget for FY 2015, these apparent deviations would warrant an explanation as well as a justification.

*Includes the categories 999 MASS TOTAL, THESE DISTRICTS and FY13 July 2014

1 comment:

  1. Meeting Not on Cable TV ????March 17, 2015 at 5:45 PM

    I hope that documents surrounding Wednesday's presentation will be available to members of the public. This has been the norm for decades, especially budget proposals.
    But since the meeting is being held in a place without TV availability, the budget proposals will be as secret.
    I hope the former principal attends and video tapes the meeting for cable TV.


All comments subject to moderation. All commenters must use their own name or a screen name. No comments labelled as "Anonymous" will be published. To use your name or a screen name select "Name/URL" from the drop down menu. Insert you name in the "Name" space and leave the "URL" space blank.