Recently, enough people have been raising the question that the superintendent felt compelled to respond. He sent the following message to a school board member:
Good morning.The superintendent does not seem to care much about the district’s credibility. Here are all the reasons to question his analysis.
I have been approached recently by several members of the community regarding the base line cost to operate an elementary building. They have asked this in relation to keeping Hoover Elementary open and opening the new east-side elementary school. After asking clarifying questions, I think I have the information that they are seeking and I wanted to share it with you first.
All buildings require the following staff: Principal, Teacher Librarian, Guidance Counselor, Building Secretary, Media Secretary, Custodian(s), and Maintenance. Averaging these costs from all elementary buildings throughout the District, the combined costs for these staff are approximately $475,000.
All buildings also require Regular Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, and Specials Teachers. These numbers are dependent on the number of students in the building and therefore are not included in the above cost total.
All buildings have utility and supply costs. Again, averaging these costs from all elementary buildings throughout the District, the cost for utilities and supplies are approximately $175,000.
The combined total is $675,000. Please keep in mind that these figures are in 2014-15 dollars and will go up for next year bring the total for next year to @$700,000.
The bottom line in response to the questions asked is for the District to keep Hoover Elementary School open AND open the new east-side elementary would require a minimum of $700,000 in additional general fund expenditures every year.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
- First, 475,000 plus 175,000 does not equal 675,000. The superintendent later corrected the arithmetic and revised his cost figure downward by $25,000. An excusable error, maybe, but funny how all the errors in his message tend toward inflating the cost estimate.
- The superintendent’s reasoning is: The average cost of operating an elementary school is $675,000. Therefore it costs $675,000 to keep Hoover open. I would hope that most ICCSD students could spot the logical flaw.
- Of course, the use of an average obscures the fact that bigger schools cost significantly more to run than smaller schools. For example, “All buildings require . . . a Guidance Counselor.” Except Hoover gets only 60% of a guidance counselor, since it shares its counselor with other schools. The superintendent makes no adjustment for that fact. How many of the other staff members that he identifies have less than a full-time equivalent at Hoover, and a significantly larger expense at bigger schools? You won’t find the answer in the superintendent’s message, which acts as if all elementary schools have the same number of non-teaching staff.
- Is it really possible that the district would move over three hundred students to other schools without increasing the assignment of guidance counselors, custodians, support staff, etc., at those schools? That’s the implication of the superintendent’s analysis. It’s almost certainly not true, but it helps make Hoover look more expensive, so in it goes.
- In fact, the district certainly knows what it spent on staff and other expenses at Hoover last year. It could easily produce that figure. There is no better basis for estimating what Hoover would cost in the future. That the superintendent chose not to disclose that figure, and to use a district-wide average instead, speaks volumes.
- The superintendent includes $175,000 for “utilities and supplies.” Yet if Hoover closes, the students won’t disappear. Wherever they go, they will require additional heat, air conditioning, plumbing, and electricity. The need for “supplies,” whatever they might mean—cleaning supplies? paper goods for the bathrooms? books?—will also follow the students.
The district is not planning to simply cram all the ex-Hoover students into existing spaces and make them share existing supplies; it is building new buildings to accommodate the district’s growing capacity. The new buildings include not only the new schools, but also the planned additions to existing schools, such as the planned 125-seat Lemme addition, which will be entirely unnecessary if Hoover stays open. Those new buildings will cost millions of dollars to build, which is a whole separate issue from operating expenses. But they will also, of course, require ongoing utilities and supplies.
Maybe there will be efficiencies, or maybe not. (New construction, believe it or not, is not always superior to old construction.) But the superintendent doesn’t inquire. He simply counts the entire cost of utilities and supplies as if it will disappear if Hoover closes and the kids go someplace else.
- Even the superintendent’s average cost figures are in the form of assertions; we’re supposed to trust him that they are accurate. But given how hard he is striving to inflate the cost of keeping Hoover open, how willing should we be to trust even those numbers?
- Look at this document from 2011. It shows the operating cost of Hoover that year, minus the amount spent on teachers, to be $306,878. Again, only a portion of that figure can be saved by closing the school, so Tilley’s $190,000 figure still looks pretty reasonable. But the superintendent tells us we can save $675,000 annually by closing the school.
- Look at this document from 2013-14, just three years later, right after the board voted to close Hoover. It shows the operating cost of Hoover that year, minus the amount spent on teachers, to be $420,152—a full 36% increase over the 2011 figure, right when it became in the administration’s interest to make Hoover look expensive. The lack of any consistency in how the numbers are broken down does not inspire confidence. In any event, if you only have $420,152 to work with, how are you going to find savings of $675,000?
The level of hucksterism in the superintendent’s message is just embarrassing. Does this administration care about providing accurate information so the board can make good policy decisions? Or does it just care about selling its own agenda, complete with Madison-Avenue-style puffery?