Wichita school district arithmetic

As the voters of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, consider whether to pass an expensive bond issue in 2008 to finance more spending, consider district officials’ attitudes towards spending. In 2005, Wichita School Board Member Chip Gramke was asked this question, followed by his answer:

[Question:] It seems as though we keep putting more and more money into education, yet it seems we are getting less and less out of it.

[Answer:] Again I will only speak for Wichita Public Schools to answer this question. If we have been putting “more money” into USD 259, I haven’t seen the check yet. As a matter of fact, Wichita Public Schools has been in the position of cutting our budget for the last 4 years. This school year is the first time in years we have received additional money.

(Source: Wichita NewsBrief, July 26, 2005, at http://www.wichitanewsbrief.com/newsletter.aspx?id=341)

Mr. Gramke’s assertion that USD 259 spending is not increasing, and that the district has been cutting its budget for the four years before 2005 doesn’t square with the facts as I see them. A document at the Kansas State Department of Education (http://www3.ksde.org/leaf/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf) gives some facts about spending in USD 259. The table below shows figures from this document, along with some calculations that I performed.

For each year, the number of dollars spent increases, and so does the spending per student. Some years the increase is less than the rate of inflation, but in other years it is greater.

You can easily see that in the four years before 2005, the years for which Mr. Gramke made the claim that the budget has been cut, both total spending and spending per student increased every year. This is true even for the years in which enrollment declined.

Mr. Gramke is no longer on the Wichita school board, but his biography on the USD 259 BOE website listed his profession as accountant. Given that, I thought maybe Mr. Gramke was speaking in terms of real spending, that is, spending adjusted for the effects of inflation. So I calculated these numbers, as you can see in the table. Even after accounting for the effects of inflation, spending — both total spending and spending per student — increased in every year that Mr. Gramke claimed the budget was being cut.

What could be the basis of the claim that Mr. Gramke made, that the budget was being cut? Is this the way that Wichita school district officials do arithmetic?

I suspect that Mr. Gramke was simply exposing the attitude that many government bureaucrats and officials have: if the budget doesn’t increase as much as they think it should, they call it a budget cut.

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