AN UNCOMMON VIEW OF HOW MUCH IT COST TO EDUCATE A CHILD

There are so many critics of public education and its funding throwing around the B word these days that I feel that I should be wearing a pith helmet and chain mail. Once you utter the word (you should pardon the expression) BILLION, the lights start to blink, the horns begin to honk and fireworks can be seen close by.

I am not sure that most people can conceive of a billion anythings. If you saw the movie, “Now you see me,” you saw a stack of 3 billion euros piled on a pallet. In school finance parlance, we now have “experts” castigating schools and school districts for spending billions upon billions of dollars. You know what the next words are, “The amount of waste in education is (choose your epithet).”

The wiser critics sometimes use placeholder words to describe the money spent on education. They refer to the taxes that people pay in abundance which leaves their pockets for no reason at all. “Hey when I was in school, there were no spending billions on education.” Yup, that is true and gasoline was 25 cents a gallon and you could buy a new Chevy II for $2,000.

Politicians hop on the bandwagon by fashioning legislation that restricts the raising of taxes, limits the amount of money that the state contributes to local school districts, and accuses educators of ripping off citizens and not teaching our children properly. They also invent new options for parents, like charter schools, that spend even more money and don’t do well with our children. In Pennsylvania you may now use the word “Billion” to describe the 1.6 billion dollars spent on this failed experiment.

So, if the description of free spending school people is not correct, how can we look at the dollars in a way that most of us can understand? I have always been of the mind that folks don’t seem to cotton to school finance experts speaking in arcane formulas, algorithms, and statistical arabesques. Let’s take a simple look at spending.

The numbers that you will see here are obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. I promise that I did not make them up. Using the latest audited numbers, from 2012-13, the total expenditures for all school districts, charter schools, career centers and intermediate units ( a regional education service agency) was $ 27,619, 398, 175. That’s a whole bunch of billions. However, you can then divide it by the number of students in those institutions. That would be 1,748,355.

When you do that division you get $15,797. So that’s how much it cost to educate a child (on average) in Pennsylvania in the 2012-13. That may tell us some things, but not the whole story. If that number is too much for you, than you might want to stop here.

There are 180 days in a school year. However, that is not how long schools and school districts are in operation. Those are the pupil days. I would be just as fair using 260 some odd days as a work year. I will be conservative and use those school year pupil days. Teachers do work longer than that. If you divide the $15,797 by the number of pupil days, you get $87.76 per day.

I cannot be sure that folks think of that as a high number, low number or a just right number for educating our children, but that is what it was in 2012-13. Now for the final calculation. If you determine that the school day is 7.5 hours, and that is a controversial number. Critics will say that it is too long. Children are not in their seats for that long during the day. Others will say that the day begins when the buses pick up the children. While, still others will say that extracurricular time should also be included, as well as teacher time.

For those reasons, I have moderated the time to 7.5 hours. If you then divide 7.5 into $87.76 you will get $11.70. That is what it cost to educate a student in Pennsylvania in the 2012-2013 school year. I will repeat. It cost $11.70 per hour to educate a child in PA in that year.

I have taken a look at national statistics from time to time. Although the numbers vary from state to state, the answers are pretty much the same. I once calculated what the national hourly rate was. I do not remember the exact number, but it was similar to Pennsylvania’s. My sister challenged me to figure it out for New York City. It was much higher than Pennsylvania, but within a striking distance of PA.

Just for the fun of it, try and calculate it for your own school district. Since you now know the state average, you can do a comparison. I have a feeling that you will be surprised.

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MISREADING OF NUMBERS IS A PROBLEM

For you accountants out there, you know what an unencumbered fund balance is. For those of you are bolloxed by those words, here‘s the scoop. After you’ve gotten all the dough and paid all of the bills, if there is money left over, that’s the unencumbered (or unassigned) fund balance.
In Pennsylvania, schools are not allowed to have a fund balance more than 8%-12% depending on the size of their budgets. The smaller the budget the higher the percent. So, those with higher expenditures have a lower percent they are allowed to keep for their fund balance.

That seems very clear to me. I hope it does for you. Now, if you have an unassigned fund balance and you can’t seem to find dough to fill the hole in your budget, you can use all or part of your unassigned fund balance to fill it. Actually if you have a fund balance and don’t use it to fill a hole and you wind up raising taxes, you are in trouble. Filling holes in the budget with fund balances happened innumerable times in the recent past. Smart school administrators and boards saw what was coming in the pension fiasco, the cutting of lots of programs and lack of dough from the state and saved some money to use later to fill that gap.

It was the Joseph story all over again- seven good years- put away- for the seven bad years. The situation was made even more uncomfortable by a law passed in the 2005-2006 year called Act 1, which restricted school district’s taxing ability. You could not raise taxes more than the average weekly wage increase in PA from the previous year. In many cases, this turned out to be a very small number 1% or 2%.

So, how did districts live with those kinds of restrictions? In most cases, because of the limited amount of dough given to them in their Basic Education Funding allocations from the state (sometimes no increases at all), they used their unassigned fund balances. That was the law, as was the limitation on fund balances.

How then did someone come up with a total amount of fund balance that was over 4 billion dollars? There are two more categories of reserves that are not unassigned or unencumbered. Those two are called committed and assigned. See, the legislature and the administration at that time knew that school districts would need to use fund balances for budget holes. They also knew that there were large capital expenditures that school districts needed to save for, whether vehicles such as buses, tractors, physical changes, roofs and emergencies and all sorts of other capital expenses.
They also knew that if a district needed to renovate a building or actually build a building and wanted to have money in reserve to pay for the building or pay for part of it, they would need another account to do that. The auditor general is well aware of these three different kinds of line items.

The third category is one that is used by a number of school districts to house funds that they know they will have to pay in the future. One of those might be self-funded insurance. It is more common now for self-insured school districts to keep a large reserve to back up their insurance coverage either for normal payments or for catastrophes.

Yes, all three categories come to four billion dollars, but only 1.7 billion is available for the district to use to defend itself from higher costs of operation and lack of state funds. In many cases, school districts were praised for thinking that far ahead.

HOMOPHOBIA

I am not sure that I like that word. It brings back some childhood memories that I prefer to forget. Homo was the operant word of many teenage kids when I was growing up. Having been born and raised in New York City, there were many opportunities for me to hear that word and not think about why we were using it. In our parlance, homo did not mean gay people. It meant that you were down on the totem pole of popularity.
Obviously, the word has gone through many iterations and is now no longer in evidence. Even gay has lost its popularity. The reference is, these days, to the LGBT community, which is all encompassing. So why do I bring this all up right now? I just discovered that one of my favorite people is not the person that I thought he was.
Tony Dungy was the coach of two National League Football teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (he didn’t do too well there) and the Indianapolis Colts (he won a super bowl there with Payton Manning). He has always seemed to me to be a gentleman. His relations with his players, the fans and the media seemed to be rational, on target and something that I thought that was the epitome of leadership.
Even in his new role as a football commentator was even handed. If Charles Barkley was Ying, Tony Dungy was Yang. I followed him into the broadcast booth with the same kind of rooting as I did when he was coaching the Colts. He even seemed to be respected by others in the broadcast booth. There was nothing hard edge about him- a gentleman above all else.
That all changed the other day. You may or may not know who Michael Sam is. He is a young man who played for the University of Missouri for three years on the varsity. It was after his last college season that he announced that he was gay. He had been elected the best defensive player in the conference to which his Alma Mater belonged. His coach and his teammates knew about him being gay. There never seemed to be a problem on the team. Actually, during his years there, Missouri did quite well in football.
In a recent interview, Tony Dungy said that he would not have drafted Michael on his team because he would have been a big distraction. Michael Sam had been drafted in the 7th round by the St. Louis Rams. The strange thing is, Mr. Dungy said that Sam was a good player and that the NFL is a meritocracy. So how come he wouldn’t have drafted a good player? There is something off about his comments. He did try and clarify his remarks today, but they came out just the same way.
There have been a number of football players that have not been chosen to play because of their off field behaviors. Those players never even make the roster. The word, “A big distraction” is never used publicly to describe decisions not to draft them. However, we all know that certain players could not control themselves and were always having problems.
How did the New England Patriots not know that Aaron Hernandez would be a big distraction? He was the player who is accused of killing a number of people. He was also related to gangs where he came from. However, the Patriots did take him because the NFL is a meritocracy.
Tony Dungy, I guess, is not who I thought he was. I now find out that he was been a spokesperson for some anti-gay marriage groups and has not always been as straight as I would have thought. He was called in to look into the Richie Incognito scandal in the Miami Dolphin locker room. He thought of himself, the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl, as kind of a role model like Jackie Robinson.
I did not know that he held long prayer sessions when he was a coach and wanted to have his players do bible studies. Is that not kind of discrimination? I am disappointed in Tony Dungy. I always thought so much of him. I am rooting for Michael Sam to make the St. Louis Rams. I know that he will get along with his teammates, as he did at Missouri. I am also thankful that there is at least one NFL team that had the non-Dungy way of doing things.

WHAT’S HAPPENED TO US??

You don’t have to be a sports fan to know that we have become a nation of conformists. I can speak about it from my own personal experience in lobbying and education. I have spoken with people in both fields and have had agreement that we have trouble with people who color outside of the lines or seem to be a bit different.
Last year when Yasiel Puig fled Cuba to play ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he came under fire for being very open with his feelings and performed unusual feats on the diamond. He threw from far in the outfield to home plate on a fly and missed the cutoff man. He was criticized for that and for being a menace on the base paths and for just being someone who loves the game. I thought that’s what we wanted in a ball player.
During the 1960’s we had a raft of people who were not afraid to speak out. You might not have liked what they had to say, but you listened. Shelly Yanoff was a red-headed trouble maker (and maybe still is). She was as fiery as her red hair and spoke up for the disenfranchised. The people who have taken her place are those who don’t want to make waves, work within the “system,” and don’t want to anger anyone.
Johnny Football is another example of who we want people to conform. Johnny Manziel does what other 21 year olds do and he gets whacked across the tushie for having fun. No one doubts his football playing ability, but they want to have him sit in his room and not say anything. That is why he was not chosen in the first set of players in the NFL draft. Did anyone ever watch Fran Tarkenton or pay attention to Paul Hornung, or Alex Karras? Come on we like these people and we really don’t want them to be carbon copies of statues.
Now we have Lance Stephenson. He was the focus of his high school team that won 4 straight NYC high school championships. He did things at 15 that some NBA players can’t do. Did you see him guard LeBron James and really get to him? Did you see him blow in LeBron’s ear? What do you want from this 23 year old? He is different (some say too different) and so he gets traded from a contender (the Indiana Pacers) to Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets. I believe Indiana will be sorry for that move.
Do you want to have Yogi Berra conform to some sort of standard? His antics and sayings have become part of the American language. He certainly never tried to be anyone but himself. Let’s give these people some room and critique when they really do something wrong.

SO TAKE THE PICTURES DOWN ALREADY

We have a fiscal crisis here in Pennsylvania. Our state budget was going to be unbalanced until a lateral arabesque done to the tune of Peter and the Wolf descended from on high. The budget has been a battleground between our Governor, a Republican, and the legislature which is controlled by Republicans. The cuts have been awful. One time revenues have been used to plug holes, and the fight between the aforementioned groups continues.
The Governor took ten days (the legal limit) to sign the budget document presented to him by the legislature but did a really strange thing. The governor blamed his Republican colleagues for not including a pension reform plan in the new budget. He was so mad that he deducted about 70 million dollars from the legislator’s coffers (both D’s and R’s) and infuriated both houses and both parties.
There is now some thought that the legislature will override his blue lining (Presidents can’t do a line item veto).They would need 2/3 of both houses. That means that Democrats would have to vote with them. There is scuttlebutt that they already have those votes. This is getting to be very disturbing.
Education did very poorly in the budget. The administration claimed that it gave a bunch of dough to schools, but it was takeaway from one pot and give to another. Pension contributions ballooned to over a billion dollars. Funny, when you look at how this happened over the years, you will see a startling trend of underfunding, especially during the halcyon years of the market. No one read the Old Testament about Joseph and the lean years and the fat years. We are now paying for not saving for the lean years.
So, why this background noise? I walked into the capitol building the other day and was in my own Senator’s office. A staff member pointed her cell phone into my face and told me to look at “this.” It was a picture of the paintings in the hallway of a former President Pro Temp. of the Senate with a plaque underneath that was different from other Senators. This not only had his name and his years of service, but had a recounting of him going to jail.
It was also true of 3 former Speakers of the House, whose portraits all had new plaques. There had been some talk of taking down the portraits. It appears that this was the compromise. It was done by the current President Pro Temp. and the Speaker of the House. My feeling is that we have so many problems in our Commonwealth, that this is not a concern of most people. If people in the legislature feel that these people are not worthy of having their portraits hung in the Capitol, just take the darned things down. We have so many other things to attend to.

MADE UNCOMFORABLE BY FAMILY?

MADE UNCOMFORTABLE BY FAMILY?
My wife and I have always surmised that once you have become part of a family, either by marriage, birth, or happenstance, you become crazy immediately. We have seen it so many times. Carol’s four boy cousins from her Aunt have been married 16 times and one of them is still at it. Her uncle never told his children that they were born Jewish, never told his parents and siblings and has caused a giant schism in their family. I always tell Carol that they are not related to me by blood, but they are her.
My mom did not tell me that I had a brother till I was 38 years of age and then was going to tell him that my father, who died in 1943, was his father, even though my brother was born in 1948. My Aunt Ruth, of blessed memory, always served two complete meals at every sitting. She followed the last meal with Alka seltzer (placed on the table). One of my wife’s cousins extended his stay in the hoosegow by telling the judge that he was just too smart.
Carol’s maternal grandfather built homes, lived in them and then sold them without making a profit. Before we got married, Carol’s dad asked us if we wanted to have a big wedding at a wedding factory, or have a small wedding at their home and he would give us $2000. We went for door number two, the $2000. At the end of the ceremony, he beckoned us into his office and gave us a check for the $2000 and then gave me all of Carol’s college loans (more than $2000 worth) and said, “Now she’s yours.”
My mom used to come to our home for two week visitations. Once she came to our home in Clarion, PA for her stay. One Sunday morning, it was Mother’s Day, we were coming back from out sojourn to the synagogue in Oil City (yes there is an Oil City), and stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch. Upon entry and seating, my mom went to all of the tables and placed all of the Sweet and Low Packets and all of the ashtrays in her purse.
If that wasn’t enough, she appeared at the table of each of the other patrons who had a child visible. She began to tell them all how to raise their children, what foods not to feed them, and how to buy shoes. I had pretty much given up. I was kind of used to that kind of behavior (and I certainly loved my mom), but it was getting to be too much.
So, I approached mom, after she scolded the person who gave us the coffee with the meal, and told her that I was going to give her a Mother’s Day present. I was going to drive her down to Pittsburgh and put her on a plane home. She was delighted. I called my sisters in New York and told them to pick mom up at the airport. I had no idea if a plane was leaving soon, but I could pray.
Thankfully there was a plane at Pittsburgh Airport leaving at 4:00 p.m. We drove to the airport and made sure that she got on the plane, called my sisters and told them that I would send mom’s false teeth and clothing to them the next day.
My dad died when he was 36 years old. He was not much for working, but he loved all kinds of sports. He was a professional boxer under the name Kid Russia. I have a feeling that is why he died of a stroke. About 15 years ago there was a program about baseball’s halcyon days- the 30’s 40’s and 50’s. I was watching the show on TV. It depicted the 1938 World Series, Cubs versus Yankees. The first pictures were of the crowd circling Wrigley Field. As I looked at the faces, I actually saw my father waiting on line.
I did not have the foresight or ability to tape the show. I found out the name of the company that made the program. Fortunately they were in New York City. I went there and they made a tape for me of that scene slowed almost to a standstill. I look at it now and again. It did not surprise me that he was in Chicago. He took my sister to a hockey game when she was six months old. He used to go to Boston to see games. He was even shooting pool when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I know that for sure because mom told me and my sister to go to the pool hall and get him.
Having family is one of our human obligations. Over the years, we have expanded our family by marriage and discovery. Carol has discovered a great number of her father’s family. He was not very open about them. We surmise that they were not middle class and he was not happy with their status in life. That is surely a guess on our part.
For some parts of a family, you can go many years, not see them and still feel comfortable with them. For other parts, discomfort appears to be a consistent thing. I guess it all depends on your view of life. I feel lucky that my wife and I are always in communication with most of our family.

LET ME GO RADICAL, JUST THIS ONE TIME!!!

Radical was a buzzword in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It has since been replaced by the word, awesome. Neither one of these words really describes what the sayers meant to say. In the case of radical or rad, it came across as something that the listener had never heard of- such was the term rad idea. Today, the term awesome has the same kind of meaning. Rather than using a real descriptor of an idea or an activity, it is termed awesome.
I do not mean to use the term radical in any other but its common usage. I am beside myself with what is happening to our population. The mantra these days is BE ANGRY. I cannot but feel that there is some sort of anger machine out there making hay while the sun shines. How can one be angry at almost everything? Is there no limit to hatred?
The anger makers are in their heyday right now. Now is the time for the radical element to come forward. I am going to assume, that most normal people would like things to bet better and lead a quality life. I don’t believe that most of us have built a bomb shelter as a holding pen for innumerable weapons of destruction. Further, since I hang around these kinds of people I know they don’t carry weapon into the library, a bar or into a school.
I don’t have to come out for gun control or any kind of laissez faire approach to weapons. We radicals know how to control ourselves. We do not shoot people with hoodies, no matter what their color. We also don’t leave children in cars to die of heat prostration. Our aim is to live a civilized life, get along with our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our relatives. Do we have strange neighbors, co=workers or friends. Of course we do and so do you.
That’s what I mean by radical. Our radical ideas are not to join cults, militias, stop people from going into certain buildings (whose ideas we don’t like), nor do we run our businesses to accommodate some of our religious beliefs. We know that our civil rights end at the tip of your nose. We don’t complain that this current crop of youth is lazy, crazy and hazy. We can remember when we were called that when we started to listen to Rock and Roll (especially Elvis).
We also don’t want such great divisions in our society. We really are saddened by the media and its attempts to divide us. They are just trying to make money at our expense. They will succeed for a while until we radicals stand up and tell them, NO MORE.