Please note the Discussion Paper, entitled Inappropriate Spending, from Professor Michael Hoban. Professor Hoban sent a copy of his Paper to members of the Lakewood Board of Education. It is my hope that residents will read and evaluate the document, and that the BOE appoint a Task Force or Study Group, as Professor Hoban suggests, to look further and deeper into the issue. Bill Hobday
Please find my document entitled INAPPROPRIATE SPENDING? - A DISCUSSION PAPER. As you can see, the paper is based on a recent article which presented some very interesting data regarding school districts in New Jersey. The questions raised by this data seem to be very timely - and also very critical to the proper use of our educational dollars in the future. It is my hope that the Lakewood Board of Education will consider appointing the Task Force requested in this paper.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Dr. Michael Hoban
27 Rosewood Drive
Lakewood, NJ 08701
Inappropriate Spending? – A Discussion Paper
Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
(In higher education, when one wishes to focus discussion on a particular topic, one prepares a “discussion paper” that serves as the basis for the exchange of ideas. This is the intent of this paper – to serve as a basis for calm and reasonable discussion.)
It is not always easy to get information about school districts in a format that makes sense. But happily, I found an article that is very helpful in this regard because it breaks down expenditures in some different ways – although still leaving much to be desired. The article in question is Interactive Map: Per Pupil Spending by Colleen O’Dea, June 20, 2012 at njspotlight.com.
The data in the article is from the NJ School Report Card: 2010-2011. Among other things, it indicates that the average TOTAL expenditure per student for a school district in NJ was $16,600.
If we just look at three local districts, the reported TOTALS look like this:
Lakewood = $23,362
1. Howell = 16,854
2. Jackson = 14,686
One could argue from this that the cost to educate each student in Lakewood is “39% greater than in Howell” and “59% greater than in Jackson.” And, in some sense of the term, this would be true. But it would also be COMPLETELY DECEPTIVE in terms of what one really wants to know.
The NJ School Boards Association points out the obvious when it states that to use these numbers would be inappropriate – since they contain such items as transportation and special education which vary widely among districts and can skew the totals. (The total per-pupil cost also contains items such as pension payments to school employees.)
So, the association has come up with a more accurate Comparative Budget Total which includes classroom instruction, support services, administration, operations and extracurricular activities (that is, the real education costs). And this is a much better estimate as to what it actually costs to “educate” the average student in a public school district.
And comparing the three districts in this way we get:
Lakewood = $12,675
1. Howell = 12,170
2. Jackson = 10,945
We can now see that there is very little cost difference between Lakewood and Howell and both of these districts spend approximately 14% more per student than Jackson on “REAL SCHOOL COSTS.”
But what the article does not do and what I will do here is to raise questions about a very significant difference between these three districts.
For the three districts, compare the percentage of the “average per pupil cost” for REAL SCHOOL COSTS (RSC) versus TOTAL DISTRICT COSTS (TDC). That is, what percentage of the total district costs really go to actual school costs for the average students?
Consider the following:
Lakewood: TDC = $23,362 and RSC = $12, 675
- % of total NOT dedicated to real school costs = 46%
That is, in Lakewood, 46% of the district’s total per-pupil cost DOES NOT GO to “real school costs.” And it would appear that most of this amount goes towards transportation and special education (as mentioned above).
The obvious question is: How does this compare to other local districts? Is this “normal” or is Lakewood out of line?
Since all districts have transportation and special education costs, it would seem (at first glance) that the percentage spent by Lakewood should be somewhat similar.
Here are the percentages for some other local districts (including Neptune, an Abbott district).
Toms River: TDC = $13,426 and RSC = $10,697 - 20%
Pt. Pleasant: TDC = $13,191 and RSC = $10,345 - 22%
Jackson: TDC = $14,686 and RSC = $10,945 - 25%
Wall: TDC = $16,484 and RSC = $12,409 - 25%
Berkeley: TDC = $16,548 and RSC = $12,160 - 27%
Howell: TDC = $16,854 and RSC = $12,170 - 28%
Neptune: TDC = $20,773 and RSC = $14,497 - 30%
As you can see, these percentages at all of these districts (except Lakewood) are somewhat similar - there is a range of 20% to 30% of these districts’ total funds being spent primarily on transportation and special education (and pension benefits). So, we could reasonably expect Lakewood’s expenditure to be similar to these districts. After all, Lakewood’s RSC ($12,675) is in the “same ballpark” as these districts.
But, as we can plainly see, Lakewood’s 46% is clearly way out of line compared to these districts.
Lakewood’s 46% of budget being spent on “non-school costs” is a full 16% above that of the next most expensive district (Neptune, an Abbott district).
If we assume a public school population in Lakewood in 2010-2011 of 5200 pupils, this 16% represents almost 20 million dollars:
$23,362 x 5200 = $121,482,400 x 16% = $19,437,184.
So, the question becomes: Is it possible that the Lakewood school district OVERSPENT 20 million dollars in 2010-2011 primarily on transportation and special education costs – compared to the reasonable costs for such services of other local school districts?
Certainly, on the surface, it does appear that the answer to this question is YES. In looking at this data, a reasonable person could conclude that at least $20 million was spent inappropriately. This comparative data establishes this fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
But, be careful here. This $20 million (16%) DOES NOT REPRESENT the total amount spent by Lakewood on transportation and special education. It represents the possible EXCESSIVE EXPENDITURE of funds in this area
The total amount spent on these two items would seem to be closer to $40 million or even more. (Perhaps the Lakewood BOE could give us these exact figures.)
Given this apparent excessive expenditure on these two items, the important question becomes: How does the present BOE intend to correct this situation in the most efficient and least painful way for those involved?
The question is not WHETHER this can be fixed – because it MUST be fixed. The question is HOW QUICKLY will the Board do this?
(As an example, it has been pointed out by several sources that a HUGE REDUCTION could be made in the cost of busing the same number of students in Lakewood – IF a more efficient use of the buses took place. So, why is this not being done?)
Now we all know that Lakewood has some “special circumstances” regarding its school-age population – particularly in the ratio of public to private school children.
Given this fact, would it be reasonable to suggest that there do exist JUSTIFIABLE special circumstances that would explain this HUGE DISCREPANCY in the reasonable allocation of funds?
It would NOT appear to be so – unless one is prepared to argue that religious practices are justifiable special circumstances for the wasteful expenditure of public funds. Is that being suggested?
Or is it more reasonable to suggest (as some have) that former Boards have DELIBERATELY OVERSPENT these funds in response to pressure from persons having undue influence over Board decisions? That certain rules and regulations have been INAPPROPRIATELY MANIPULATED to benefit some children over others?
Clearly, if this is true, then it is incumbent on the present Board to correct this past practice as soon as possible.
Let us treat ALL Lakewood children in a fair and even-handed manner.
This data (presented in this new manner) seems to demonstrate quite clearly that many millions of dollars are being spent inappropriately by the Lakewood BOE in the two areas of
1. Special education.
Given the obvious concern of the community at large expressed at BOE meetings that Lakewood public school children lack even the basic textbooks to do their assignments, it is obvious that the Board must act quickly in this matter.
Accepting the concept of continued wasteful spending cannot be an option for the present Board. Let us not use our time and energy “blaming” whoever was responsible for this waste – but do let us correct this situation NOW.
The Lakewood BOE should appoint a special TASK FORCE now – to examine these questions and to make recommendations to the Board regarding appropriate solutions.
There really is no time to waste where the education of our children is at stake.
Dr. Michael Hoban spent 48 years as a teacher and administrator at all levels of education – from elementary school to university. He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in mathematics and education. He is a Professor Emeritus at the City U of NY and is also retired from Monmouth University. He is a resident of Lakewood and is a senior educational consultant to Lakewood U.N.I.T.E.