A funny thing happened on the way to the 'off-hand comment' on the Merrimack TEA facebook page. I was accused of not using "real and accurate data" and that my "rhetoric was not doing anyone any good."
Nothing surprising there I suppose but to stay on point--what was it I said that earned me such a response?
I announced that if you took the total Merrimack School budget and divided it by the total student enrollment that it cost more than sending your kid to UNH. This appears to have riled some people up. In fact someone sent me a nice itemized list of the "costs" of sending your kid to UNH for a year just to prove I was wrong, and to justify how Merrimack's cost per child wasn't as much.
So here we have the "costs" to go to UNH. Keep in mind that this is (I suppose) meant to be relevant to the comparison I made.
Fascinating. And yes, I suppose it could cost this much for one year at UNH, but is that relevant to the point I was trying to make?
The Merrimack school budget for 2011-2012 (if passed) is $65,340,419.00. The town projects that 4227 students will be 'educated' that year, down from 4354 this year and 4665 the year before that. This works out to $15,457.87/per student for one year of k-12 education in the Town of Merrimack.
How does that compare?
Well, my detractor includes room and board, the meal plan, and books to arrive at a sum of over $25,000.00 per year and hey! non residents pay even more. (even when they vote as residents, by the way).
My response? How much more would it cost to send a kid to school in Merrimack if the School board included, a dormitory, room and board, and an additional meal plan. If the law of averages applies, more than 25,000.00 per year. But let's just go the other way with this.
First, we don't have out of state or probably even out of town residents attending class in Merrimack. If we do, I'd suggest we charge them $10,000 more per year for that 'quality' education and we can then use that to offset town residents school taxes. Maybe we could have a contest. Everyone in town can recruit from outside the district and whomever gets to ten kids first wins a new Mercedes.
Room and Board? Seriously? Room and Board? I've only lived in town for twenty years but if there is a public school dormitory somewhere I'll have my kids dropped off in an hour. I have some excellent ideas for re-purposing their bedrooms during the school year. I'm also rather keen on all the money I'll save on room and board, meal plans, and electricity at home, since I appear to paying for it in my tax rate already.
The Meal plan. I have one of those. It's called a bag lunch and change from my pocket for milk. If they want a hot lunch, I need special paper with dead presidents on it or a check to charge up the lunch card. So again, I appear to be paying twice for something that is already "built in" to the cost of a public school education. And correct me if I am wrong but even the kids who get a free or reduced lunch could not possibly cost that much and that may well be offset in part or whole by some state or federal funds.
Books and supplies? Every year the list of supplies I must provide gets longer. And the stories of teachers buying their own supplies are legendary. So should we count those as additional expenses or back those costs out? And the text books? If you mean to compare the ones in public school to those used at the college level--even a crappy college-- there's no comparison. Public school texts are like big picture books on 50 pound paper, double spaced and light on depth for easy delivery and consumption. We could save a few million by going back to books where the real estate on the page was more words than pictures and written in type below thirty points.
So what are we left with? Tuition and fees which amounts to $13,672.00 the exact figure posted on the UNH web site, and the one I used to make my claim that it costs more per student to send a kid to Merrimack Public school than it does to UNH.
To be fair, I was not specific. And there are other costs like transportation that we have not addressed. But this comes down to the people of Merrimack accepting that their K-12 per student costs on a truly comparative basis are not much unlike having them live and eat at home while attending UNH. Is that a good deal or should we be trying to do better?
There is clearly a seismic rift between the institutional-acceptance mentality of a level funded contract, or what might be considered a good deal on the cost of a public education, or the need for an expensive and expansive (excessive) curriculum and reality. We are not in reality here. At $15,000.00 per student plenty of people would opt to keep one parent at home and educate their own kid, or even all of their kids. Yet the amount most frequently used when talking about a voucher or a credit to parents who consider home schooling or a private school is only $3500.00 to $5000.00 per year? Where did the other 10-grand per kid just go? Administrative costs? There's a conversation worth having.
Public education has far exceeded its mandate and in doing so its costs. We need to get back to basics, focus on real education, and the goal of teaching kids how to think, not what to think. Because at 15Kper kid per year, UNH comparison or not, someone is getting screwed.