School Spending Outpacing Student Growth

County budget watchers have long noted that K-12 spending in Albemarle has outpaced student growth. Barney Breen-Portnoy tackles the topic in today’s Daily Progress, noting that since 2003 there’s been a 2% enrollment increase and a 31% spending increase. The schools point to ever increasing federal and state educational mandates (“No Child Left Behind” has gradually gone into effect during this period) and a desire to offer salaries that are competitive in the regional job market. (As the cost of living in Albemarle climbs, so too must teacher salaries.) The proposed 2009 budget would be a 2.2% increase over the current year’s budget.

42 thoughts on “School Spending Outpacing Student Growth”

  1. For me, the issue isn’t the size of the budget–it’s where the money is being spent. If the money were spent on teachers’ salaries, that’s great, in my book. Teachers don’t make enough money, period. If you want the best and the brightest, teacher salaries need to go up, up, up. (And you need to be able to fire the ineffective teachers.)

    BUT, the cost of testing… What a horrible joke. IMHO, we’ve gotten very little for all the money we spend on testing. NCLB and the SOLs have turned the school day into complete drudgery. My kids are tested and quizzed constantly. The brave new world of high-stakes testing has loaded us down with with people whose job it is to administer tests, and more people whose job is to analyze the results. It has put us in the horrible position of bribing those students who might pass an SOL test with gift cards to attend tutoring sessions. This isn’t education, folks. Developing a test-taking mentality is so far removed from the higher-order thinking skills that kids need to develop today if they want to succeed tomorrow that I would submit that it actually limits critical thinking skills.

    And what’s worse: the very people who might be in a position to sound the alarm (the administrators) won’t, because their livelihood now depends on this burdensome infrastructure. That’s why we have 74 administrators in Central Office in Charlottesville City Schools–1 for every two classes of students.

    I hope Barney Breen-Portnoy will write the same piece about the city schools.

    10 employees and $1.53 million for testing in ACPS vs a 1/2 time employee 10 years ago. ’nuff said.

  2. The testing pressures are extremely destructive. In the middle school in my ACPS feeder pattern, the Middle School reorganization which began in the 2005/06 school year has resulted in VERY large classes(for advanced/honors classes) and very small classes(for students at risk of not passing SOLs). Many parents feel that in this resource shift, their children have been abandoned. Many families have opted for private school or home schooling. And many parents who still have children in public school are so frustrated that they no longer advocate for more tax funding for the local schools.
    Having said all that, I do think it is encouraging that the ACPS Board has seriously cut the downtown administrative budget.

  3. There is a total lack of accountability in our schools. The schools are a bottomless bit which requries more and more money to stay afloat. I know you parents with children in school do not like to hear this but your children will not be in school forever and then you will have a different view and possibly see things as they are in the “cold cruel light of day.”
    The only thing I ever hear teachers request is more money for higher salaries. Every year, the same old thing, we need more money in our paychecks to be able to afford to live in this area.
    The school budgets in both the county and city are the single largest items in the county/city budgets, year in and year out and we get less and less bang for the buck each year. The administrative central offices are nothing but dumping grounds for failed elementary, middle and high school principals. Just coasting along until retirement, not doing anything important or constructive towards improving our education system. You can thank teacher unions for this mess. Teacher unions should have and should be outlawed.
    I know my views may be unpopular, but I for one am tired of seeing my property taxes going up each year to support an administrative top heavy school system that is cracking and failing on a daily basis.

  4. You can thank teacher unions for this mess. Teacher unions should have and should be outlawed.

    They are outlawed in Virginia, under §40.1-58–40.1-69. That’s been the law of the land for generations.

    What ever will you blame things on now?

  5. Waldo, I hate to keep correcting you but what do you call the VEA and the Charlottesville Albemarle Teachers Associations. Come on Waldo you can do better than this.

  6. The problem is not lack of accountability. The problem is a huge unfunded poorly thought out federal mandate,NCLB, which has put great fiscal pressures on local schools. And otherwise hurt education- see Karl’s post above.
    I will always believe that the education of children is the most basic obligation of a free society and I will always want the teachers in my community to be well compensated.
    I do want the extreme emphasis on testing to end, and I want resources to be concentrated in the schools where they can impact students in positive ways rather than paying administrators downtown. The current mess is what happens when legislators take a good idea like a test which makes sure kids are literate and numerate before high school(anyone remember the Literacy Passport?)and decide to go to extremes. This mess was made by the state/federal governments and is not the fault of local teachers.

    Jogger- You are wrong when you say that all parents will begrudge paying for future students when their children are grown. It is true though that once people have no direct connection with the schools, they become pretty clueless. I am amazed when I listen to my youngest child talk with his older siblings and realize how much things have changed in just a few years. We do need more parents with kids in the schools now on local school boards.

  7. Jogger, do you even know what a union is? Labor unions have the power to negotiate with employers on behalf of the members; the agreements are binding on both employers and employees. The VEA is a voluntary association; it does not have the power to enter into negotiations with employers on behalf of its members. It can lobby for higher pay, of course, but it doesn’t act as a representative for its members in terms of bargaining with the employer to set the salaries for the members. Union members can strike; members of VEA cannot strike. What VEA mostly does is provide workshops for teachers (continuing ed stuff), put out newsletters, etc.


    I don’t even know what the Charlottesville Albemarle Teacher’s Association is…I googled and found no such entity.

    It’s not like you have a lot of credibility here to lose, Jogger, but honestly, if you’re going to play “gotcha” like you do, can you at least…know what you’re talking about?

    Repeat: VEA is not a union. Charlottesville Albemarle Teachers Association does not exist.

  8. You can thank teacher unions for this mess. Teacher unions should have and should be outlawed.

    They are outlawed in Virginia, under §40.1-58–40.1-69. That’s been the law of the land for generations.

    Teacher unions are NOT outlawed. Granted there is no collective bargaining or strike rights in Virginia but teachers are still allowed to have a union here. The right to work law allows unions:

    Code of Virginia
    Title 40.1-58 Policy of Article
    It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be abridged on account of membership or nonmembership of any labor union or labor organization

    Good grief no wonder labor is so weak here with folks thinking in this completely wrong headed way.

  9. Who do we blame for an adult that writes “Teacher unions should have and should be outlawed?”

  10. (C)harlottesville (E)ducation (A)ssociation and (A)lbemarle (E)ducation (A)ssociation. Without collective bargaining these organizations are as Cecil described. The portion of the Code above seems to be outlawing union shops for government workers. Waldo provided a much larger range.
    In a City where teachers, administrators and school board members have said publicly for years that many kids in Charlottesville Public Schools can not be taught because of “socio-economic reasons,” No Child Left Behind is definitely needed. What I found interesting about the results of the earlier SOL tests administered in the City was that so many middle class, middle income parents who thought their kids were getting a wonderful education (as the school system told them through grades, written evaluations and in conferences) were embarrassed to see how poorly their kids scored compared to the rest of Virginia. Since then, several principals have been removed from low-performing schools. Funny how soon people forget.
    Administrators propose budgets, not teachers. That’s why budgets are heavy on administration and light on education. Notice that the preponderance of money cut from the proposed county budget did NOT come from administration. Maybe if Mr. Ackerman repeats it often enough, the public will start listening to HIM and not to administrators protecting their turf.

  11. The VEA is one of the most influencial lobby groups in Richmond. Constantly in touch with the legislators requesting more money for education. 99&44/100% of teachers in Virginia belong to this organization and pay dues, just like a uniion. You can call it what you want but if it walks, talkes and acts like a union then I call it a union.
    Sooner or later parents will “wake up” to this great scam called education and demand change. How many drop outs each year does the city of Charlottesville have? Albemarle County? No child left behind was a great idea until teachers got their input. Every one is so happy with the education their children are receiving except the ones left behind. You need to start looking at this voiceless group of students and parents to really see how the school system is failing a larger and larger portion of students each year.
    When students perform poorly changes do need to be made and not necessarily the principals. What about the classroom teacher who comes in daily contact with the students. Some of these classroom teachers need to be removed before the principal. Learning starts in the classroom and not in the principals office.
    I’m no big fan of todays present day public education system and by the number of parents who are home schooling, placing their children in private schools etc….etc…I’m not the only one dissatisfied with the public school system. I am though one who will voice his opinion.

  12. Of course the VEA lobbies Congress to pass legislation that favors their industry/members, like every other professional organization in the country (the National Society of Black Engineers, like the National Association of Home Builders, etc). That’s what voluntary associations do. Members pay dues, or a membership fee, to belong to the association (just like members of the National Association of Home Builders), to get the newsletter, to get reduced rates for the conventions and workshops, and to pay for the lobbying efforts. That doesn’t make it a union, though, and the fact that you still don’t understand this point suggests that you are either (a) inveterately dense, or (b) so committed to your ideological position that you just don’t care. Collective bargaining, the ability to enter into binding contract negotiations on behalf of members is what makes a union a union. The VEA has no power to compel school districts to accept a given contract. It can’t negotiate on behalf of its members. It doesn’t represent its members in labor negotiations.

    Really, you could have made your point without making the extremely hasty, sloppy, and incorrect assertion that the VEA is a union, and then not having the good grace to say “you’re right, I was wrong, the VEA is not a union, but my argument against public education doesn’t require me to be right about the VEA.”

  13. Teacher unions are NOT outlawed. Granted there is no collective bargaining or strike rights in Virginia but teachers are still allowed to have a union here.

    Lacking those elements, it’s not a union in the sense that Jogger is thinking of it, in that it cannot have the influence that he ascribes to these nonexistent groups.

  14. “99&44/100% of teachers in Virginia belong to this organization…” Don’t make up “facts.” The number for the last 30 years has always been less than 50%, and sometimes less than 40%. If you go by locality, some have had fewer than 20%. But I can go along with the state-wide figure of fewer than 50%. What are these unfunded mandates required by NCLB? I keep hearing administrators cite this term when asking for budget increases, but I’ve never heard a school board member ask them to specify. Then I read where $400K is being spent on recordkeeping software or an upgrade on Microsoft Word. If people are not willing to spell out what line items are going up because of NCLB, they ought to stop saying it.

  15. CvilleEye asks “what are these unfunded mandates required by NCLB?” I don’t know as much about these issues as, say, a Karl Ackerman, but then again I did read the article in the DP.

    “As a consequence of the standardized testing mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, the number of Standards of Learning exams proctored annually by Albemarle has risen from around 18,000 to more than 30,000. NCLB is based on accountability measured through standardized testing.

    To administer these tests and collect the results, the Assessment and Information Services department has 10 employees and a $1.53 million budget. A decade ago, the division allocated only a halftime position for Assessment and Information Services.”

    So that looks like one unfunded mandate: the federal government requires that schools do statewide standardized testing (or risk losing their federal funding), but the feds don’t provide any funding for the implementation of the standardized testing, so the state/local level has to cover it.

  16. The cub reporter should have asked “Didn’t mandatory SOL testing in Virginia pre-date NCLB?” “Going from 18,000 tests to 30,000 tests, does that mean, prior to NCLB, the State was not requiring all students to be tested?”
    “Since the tests are administered once a year and are graded electronically and teachers actually proctor the tests since they can’t be teaching while their students are testing, why does the County have 10 employees (full time?) at a cost of $1.5M?” “What was the staffing for administering the State-required SOL test BEFORE NCLB?” It is my understanding that although NCLB requires assessments through standardized testing, it allows Virginia to use the results of its testing program that was already in place when NCLB was enacted. They did not mandate a different venue with additional costs. They did, however, mandate a different lumping of data that is to be submitted and I imagine that required a one-time upgrade on the assessment software’s report generator

  17. I repeat myself upon deaf ears…Education is the big scam, a bottomless pit for taxpayer money with no accountability, requries more and more money each year no matter what the economy is like – good or bad – strong or weak. In the Charlottesville/Albemarle schoold systems there are decreasing numbers of students. For what we are spending on public education in the city of charlottesville alone they could send each one of the dear little darlings to a local private school and have funds left over. Do the math.
    I’m tired of my real estate taxes going up year after year to support an over priced, unaccountable and broken public education system. Say what you will but there are more and more people each year that are feeling the same way I do.
    As for State and Federal mandates. Whenever someone mandates a locality to do something they should put up the money to cover the mandate or not impose a mandate on the locality. I equate mandate and sacrafice as being opposite sides of the same coin …slave and master and the one doing the mandating is not going to be the slave.

  18. Jogger, where do you get “in the Charlottesville/Albemarle school systems there are decreasing numbers of students”? I believe that is not factually true. From the DP story,

    “Since 2003, the number of students enrolled in Albemarle County schools has risen just less than 2 percent.”

    That’s an increase, not a decrease.

    You seem to view yourself as this lone voice of wisdom and commonsense, crying in the wilderness, but most of what you state seems to be just stuff you are making up. The VEA is a union. Student numbers are decreasing. 99% of teachers belong to the VEA. I think you’d like to think that no one listens to you because you are the brave voice of reason, but I think no one listens to you because you seem completely half-assed about everything.

  19. “Education is the big scam…” Some people would add the water plan and the new regional transit authority to the list.
    Does anybody remember if the candidates for the school board or council were pressed to tell what methods they would use to contain the budget? It seems that when people are running for office people usually concentrate on questions on how to spend more money to improve education or to provide more services. I don’t remember any in-depth conversations about cost savings. If they did, were any of the plans ever brought up again. Were there any conversations about cutting non-teaching administrative portion of the budget? Maybe it’s time the public start holding its elected officials accountable. jogger says there is no accountability. Has the public ever demanded accountability? The SOLs were implemented as a tool to assess achievement and some people have problems with it. What we had before was subjective evaluation of student performance and school division performance and anecdotal evidence of what our top 25 students were doing after graduation. Are people advocating that we return to that?

  20. Mandatory SOL testing did predate NCLB but SOLs had to be adapted to meet NCLB requirements, ie they are now given in more grade levels and more subjects.
    So, is NCLB closing the Achievement Gap? Are more minority students graduating from high school, doing better on national tests like the SAT, going on to college and graduating in increasing numbers, making better wages post-high school? I hope so but does anyone actually have the data? I am NOT suggesting that any group of students can not achieve at high levels. But the efforts that truly make a difference involve longer school days, summer school, smaller classes, and teachers trained to analyze individual/group deficits as they occur(very time consuming)and extra curricular activities designed to provide some of the experiences given to children in more affluent families. All these approaches have worked but they all cost a lot of money.

  21. I believe their achievement in reading has greatly improved. I don’t believe that it is widely accepted in educational circles that the items Gail listed (longer school days, year-round school, and smaller class sizes) will guarantee that the achievement gap will close, affect the graduation rate of minorities, improve standardized test scores, increase college enrollment and graduation rates, or secure higher-paying jobs. There are a dearth of longitudinal studies in education on record. You would probably have to follow an individual until she was about 35 and most researchers have moved on to something else by that time. School districts have shown generally little interest in amassing this data. It’s easier and cheaper to say in the newspaper what schools some of their graduates will be attending in the fall. They have no idea if their students actually get a degree.

  22. No, NCLB does not affect attitudes. It does say that if localities are to continue receiving federal funds they are going to have to start producing something. It certainly got the educational community’s attention and the communities talking about actually improving students’ achievement for the first time in my life time. It used to be a given that certain children were to be educated and the rest pretty much ignored. It will certainly take more than NCLB, which never claimed to be the all-in-all, to decrease the drop-out rate, increase the graduation rate, raise the academic level of the lowest-performing students, or inspire students for post-secondary education or career training. Test results can assess achievement but it can’t change attitudes. Society has to help in that. NCLB says that localities will no longer receive millions in federal funds to ignore a large portion of their students. If they wish to ignore them, then they will do it on their dime. Sounds fair to me. Charlottesville will be spending roughly $15,000/student this year when you include federal and state funds, among the highest in the state. Can they really claim that they don’t have enough money? Maybe they should focus more of their financial resources on education and not administration.

  23. Jogger is right. I don’t care whether VEA is ‘technically’ a union or not. It accomplishes similar objectives and may even be more stealth. Teachers in this area make somewhere around $50K after 10 years, with benefits that are mostly not available to similarly educated folks in the private sector. And of course, last but not least, teachers only work 3/4 of the year and are off every single snow day ET AL so they can avoid the hassles and outrageous costs of school closings.

    I really am sick and tired of the same brain-dead platitude about how teachers have it hard.

  24. Sympatico for the people in the “know” you want to add policemen and firemen to the list of over paid and underworked public servants. Teachers, policemen, and firemen are making a very good living playing the part of the poor public servant and I might add at taxpayer expense.
    Our public schoool sytems are really nothing more than expensive day care centers and they don’t do a very good job at that. i.e…police hall monitors patroling public schools…Public education system is like the stink that comes from the sewage treatment facility down on Franklin Street..the more you stir it the more it stinks…

  25. jogger, are you proposing closing the schools and shutting down the police and fire departments? I’ve read your posts; you’re not emotionally disturbed. What’s your agenda? Are you just trying to stir the pot so you can amuse yourself at the responses? By the way, the snobbish way some people look at public schools is part of the reason why we have NCLB in the first place. Being part of the problem is not being part of the solution in all cases. It’s a matter of attitdue.

  26. Thanks, Mr. Tubbs. Will check it out. I would also like to apologize for involving your wonderful website, Charlottesville Tomorrow, in one of my erroneous statements. I should have been more careful. The only thing I can think of is I must have had several browser tabs open at the time and, like with bifocals, I got confused as to where I was looking.

  27. Cville Eye, I am not proposing the closing of the schools or shutting down the police and fire departments. I would like to see a smaller size police and fire department. We have way to many of each for a town the size of Charlottesville. I would also like to not see the Charlottesville Fire Department shopping at Kroger on my taxpayer time and dime. Big fire truck parked in front two in store shopping and one or two setting in the truck or at the picnic tables. Not good for the fire fighters image, IMHO. If they have time to do this on my taxpayer time and money then we can reduce the number of fire fighters. What say you observant one?
    As far as teachers go I want to see teachers that know their subject matter, have good classroom management skills, show an interest in their students…a student can pick up in a minute when a teacher is not interested in them…and I can go on….Principals need to be actively involved in every aspect of the school plant…principals need to be better evaluators of their teachers than just giving them a pass if they do not cause him/her any problems. Many principals perceive a teacher as being a good teacher if they do not send students to the office, do not have parents calling up and complaining..etc…etc.. you get the idea Cville Eye.
    Finally, Central Offices need to be trimmed of administrators that have nothing to do but walk around all day or leave the central office and ride around all day doing nothing. Just waiting for retirement.
    I hate to say it but the secretaries and housekeeping staffs do more than most administrators to keep the lid on public schools, and they are the least paid school system employees of all. If you want more Cville Eye, I can deliver. It’s been a long time since I was in the school system but I still remember a few of the tricks of the trade……

  28. I don’t care whether VEA is ‘technically’ a union or not. It accomplishes similar objectives and may even be more stealth.

    So you’d be OK with teachers unionizing, since they’re basically unionized already? You don’t think there would be any difference?

    Teachers, policemen, and firemen are making a very good living playing the part of the poor public servant and I might add at taxpayer expense.

    Wow, so that totally explains why people are lining up around the block to become teachers!

    There’s a reason why you declined to do the math on how teachers, police, and fireman can afford to own a home in Charlottesville — you can’t back up your talk with facts.

    So, Jogger and Sympatico, you two will be signing up to work as a teacher, policeman, or fireman…right? Easy money, great hours, oodles of benefits. You’d be crazy not to! Right?

  29. Waldo, take the time to see how many of the Charlottesville Policemen live in Hollymead, Forest lakes, Dunlora and Mill Branch (the subdivision on Avon extended). These are not cheap subdivisions, but could be by your standards, Waldo. Waldo, every time you come to the hunt you bring a dog that won’t hunt.

  30. The real jogger’s back! I don’t know about fire trucks in parking lots, but I do have this: My neighbor fainted in her home, maybe a dizzy spell, maybe a stroke, maybe a heart attack. When I looked out my window, there was CARS, a police car with lights flashing and a fire engine, all of their motors running. She informed them that she didn’t want to go to the hospital. I noticed that they were there over a forty minute period. No crime, no fire. I think that is an example of our first responder program, who gets there first and who is the last to leave. Yes, there’s plenty of waste to go around. I’ve never heard Council discuss this program with Council; they’re trying to govern China now.

  31. jogger, those people who live in thos neighborhoods have income and resources in addition to their jobs. $50K does not get a home in any of them.

  32. The Virginia SOL tests predated NCLB. When NCLB came along, Virginia had to lobby to be allowed to expand & use their already extant tests for the purposes of NCLB. NCLB impacts only schools which receive Federal Title I funds: those intended to benefit the poorest students. In the city, during Scottie Griffin’s tenure either Walker or Buford would have gone into mandatory school choice based on SOL results. This would have required that city schools create a partnership with the county to provide school choice for the penalized school. In an under-reported bit of ingenuity, Ms Griffin restructured the school budget so the school which would have been penalized received no Title I funds and thus avoided that bit of work. Clark Elementary was less fortunate and went into school choice for three years. NCLB mandates that Title I funds be used to bus children who opt out during periods of school choice. I never saw final numbers, but the city budgeted $40,000 per year to bus the thirty-some children who opted for school choice. Clark actually should have been in choice for only two years, but the state SOL results came out too late to to stop choice for the third year. I’m finding nothing recent regarding Chicago Public Schools, but a few years ago so many of their schools were already in school choice that dozens of schools were on the brink of the next penalty of NCLB: namely the dismissal of the entire staff or the summary closing of the schools. NCLB mandates that 100% of students pass these tests by 2014. As my sister-in-law says of her autistic child, ‘my child OUGHT to be left behind.’ An unsavory amount of any school system’s budget over the past six years has gone toward administering the beast that is NCLB.

  33. “An unsavory amount of any school system’s budget over the past six years has gone toward administering the beast that is NCLB.” I don’t see anything in your post that would support this very vague conclusion. Thanks for the info. I knew all but the juggling of the Title I funds bit. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with using the federal funds to bus children in order to carry out a federal mandate. It’s an example of the federal government providing funds to carry out its mandate.

  34. Actually it’s not: title I funds aren’t increased to cover the cost of transportation, so there end up being fewer dollars aimed at at-risk children. Statistically it isn’t the lowest performing students who opt for school choice, either, so the targetted school is compelled to spend money designated for at-risk students to bus higher-achieving students elsewhere and then ends up with fewer high achieving students than before choice was mandated making it harder to hit the testing benchmarks. Bad cycle.

  35. And Clark improved without the feds giving them more money, in fact $40,000 less. Isn’t that wonderful? And now, their reward is that $40,000 is used in the school. That’s accountability working.

  36. jogger, you said, “Teachers, policemen, and firemen are making a very good living playing the part of the poor public servant and I might add at taxpayer expense.” If you read the article below, you’ll see it’s in the works for firemen to make a better living. I am inferring from the article that Wily Weasel Werner is recommending that CARS start charging a fee, along with the City and County. last I heard, it was to be $500 /call.

  37. Cville Eye the only people that will pay the CARS fee are the people with means. The poor and other assorted types will continue to use the rescue squad as a free ride to the hospital emergency room. You would actually be surprised at some of the dumb calls that CARS goes on and takes people to the hospital for. Who will pay for the poor to be transported to the hospital. Will fees continue to rise on a yearly basis so that people who have means can continue to support and subsidize those who don’t and abuse the CARS service. Another example of a government program and loads of wasteful spending coming from the taxpayers pockets on the horizon. Cville I await your solution to the new government boondogle (sp).

  38. City School Board just March 6, 2008 approved a school budget of $69.9M (after which they gave each other hugs and kisses for a job well done). What a bunch of puke!!!!!!!!!!!! What are we getting for $69.9M? More of the same. Somebody please tell me what we’re getting for this astronomical spending. For this kind of money we could send the little darlings to the college of their choice.

  39. It’s simple: everyone is using every method at their disposition to get more, regardless of who is negatively affected. The schools and the police have a ton of leverage to do whatever they want.

    It’s the American Way, no?

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