Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tech, Bexley, Schools, Elections

It's been a while since I've done this, but my world is clumping itself along a chaotic attractor again...

I got a letter inviting me to a meeting for folks who volunteered for the Bexley Technology Commission. I'm very excited. Bexley has some pretty forward looking folks.

For an example, take Bexley School District's decision to dump Microsoft and switch over all of their IT to Linux. It makes sense for them technically, practically, and financially. How much?

Upgrading ME to Windows XP, a newer version of the popular operating system, would cost the district about $412,000, she said. That price would include purchasing new machines and upgrading software.

The technology budget for the district last year was $159,000, so the Linux licensing fee of 50 cents per user was a far cry from the six-figure cost for sticking with Microsoft.

412000 / 2100 students = $196/pupil to upgrade to XP. Any guesses on Vista? Excellent move, BSD.


I've learned a thing or two about per-pupil spending, so I can tell you that State Rep. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) is misrepresenting the data he cites:

Comparing the highest-spending 26 districts in the state, which range from $11,000 to $17,000 per pupil, with the lowest-spending 25 districts in the state, ranging from $6,000 to $7,000 per pupil, Wolpert said it's the lower-spending districts that perform better.

"You ask the question, 'Which has the highest number of successful school districts?' It's the lower standard deviation (the lowest cost-districts compared to the highest-cost districts)," he said.

First of all, someone doesn't know what Standard Deviation means. And those ranges? He must be using old data. in FY'06, 42 school districts spent more than $11k/pupil, and only 16 spent less than $7k. But even putting those details aside, what about his larger point? Well, here are the 26 highest and 25 lowest spending districts in Ohio, grouped by performance designation:

(click to enlarge)

As you can see, the left hand column, which contains the highest spending districts, does include three 'academic watch' districts, compared to zero in the low-spending districts. That's not Wolpert's claim, however. He says that lower spending districts do better overall and have more high-performing districts. That's simply not true. Half of the high-spending districts achieved 'Excellent' ratings. Fewer than one-fourth of the low-spending districts attained that rating. More money is associated both with high-performance and low-performance. Low-Spending is associated with fair-to-middlin' performance. If Mr. Wolpert would like to have a sit-down to discuss data, I'd be happy to do so.


In the meantime, I'll re-iterate my competing claim that the best predictor of performance in my data was the amount of locally-generated funding, which probably does correlate with Mr. Wolpert's predictors. Here in Bexley, folks are extremely committed to funding the schools, supplementing the voluntary mills with an educational foundation that is the envy of other local districts. If you like to help inspire envy, the humongous annual fundraiser is coming up. See here for details on BRAVO!


If you glossed over the school stuff, you missed reading that Mr. Wolpert's colleague in the G.A., Jim McGregor (R-Gahanna) got a much trendier committee chairmanship, Alternative Energy. I almost missed his somewhat bizarre assertion that switch-grass will improve highway safety because I was thinking about what woulda-coulda-and-perhaps shoulda happened to Mr. McGregor. He won an extremely close race against Bev Campbell, with a margin that shrank quite a bit after the recount. Ms. Campbell had considered challenging the election results, but ultimately decided against doing so. Carole Squire, who was officially defeated by a much larger margin, did decide to go forward and seek to have that result set aside. At least one expert testifying on her behalf during the hearings examining the election has stated:

"There were so many egregious disparities in the (conduct of the election), it is beyond any experience I ever had."

It'll be interesting to see how this develops.


Jill said...

Oops - I think I messed up my comment -just wanted to say great work as usual. thank you

bonobo said...


Thank you. It sounds like Blogspot ate your original comment. My loss.

Paul said...

Yeah, I've just gone through two failed XP-to-Vista upgrade attempts on two different computers. Not going to try that again, at least for a while.

I think your observation that the fraction of total funding from local sources is the good predictor of performance is on track. When this is the case, there are likely to be two other things which are true: a) the local tax base is healthy and affluent; and, b) levies get passed because the locals support their schools and their kids.

My biggest objection to the proposed GIRFOF amendment is that it places more of the funding control in the hands of state-level decision makers. I went to a briefing for petition circulators last evening, and asked the briefer about the provision which says that 'no school district will get more than it needs.' She said that was so districts with high property valuations (eg Bexley) would have their state aid capped at some number deemed to be 'enough.' I asked her if the cap was a per-pupil cap or a total dollar cap. She didn't even understand the question, so someone in the audience answered that it was a dollar cap. That sticks it to districts like Hilliard, Pickerington, and Dublin who have high property valuations AND growth.

For suburban districts, this amendment is likely to cause the local funding sources to contribute as much as ever. There's two little details that they fail to talk about:

1. The $40,000 property tax exemption for seniors only applies to the first 20 mills. If a district has local levies on top of the required 20 mills, the $40,000 exemption does not apply to those. Yet another reason for seniors to vote against local levies.

2. This amendment would effectively repeal HB920, meaning that property taxes would automatically increase with the triennial property value reappraisals.

There's an old adage worth remembering here: if you want to understand the truth, follow the money. In this case, we have to remember that virtually all school funding goes toward two things: a) salaries and benefits; and, b) building construction and maintenance.

No surprise that the biggest supporters of this amendment are the teachers' unions.