The persistent whiners in Hanover County are at it again. And it’s time that the rest of the citizens have a good look at exactly what is going on.
You would think that America was in the middle of a financial boom listening to the gnashing of teeth from those who believe that schools should never face any type of budget cuts and the School Budget should be unlimited.
Hanover has some really great schools. Among the best in the country.
And that is something we want to keep.
But we have reached the point of diminishing returns in what we pay for schools. More money does not necessarily make schools better. And Hanover has a lot of unnecessary spending in the school budget.
And the majority of this wast is not in the classroom, it is in the Administration.
When you look at the background of the Administrators, from County Admin jobs down to Principals and assistants, the vast majority are former teachers. Most reached the top of the pay scale teaching and moved to administrative positions for one reason: more money. And as life long teachers, their focus and loyalty is to their fellow teachers and not the children or the taxpayers.
These teachers turned administrators may have taken some business classes, but the practice of hiring administrators “from within” turns good teachers (most of the time) into make-shift administrators. And worse, they come in demanding top tier salaries and have absolutely no experience with the business end of running schools efficiently. And their focus is on hiring more and more teachers with the false “smaller classes” logic even though the liberal “think tank” Brookings Institute has found that smaller class sizes are only a marginal improvement and the size reductions they looked at were class sizes of 22 vs class sizes of 15. Over a 4 year period, the smaller class size added the equivalent of 3 months of additional instruction. And the increase in cost was significant.
The same study concluded that a class increase of 1 student could save $12 billion a year nation wide. And if the worst teachers were let go, the savings may be more significant and actually improve the quality of education.
As you can imagine, there are few actually good studies on classroom size. Most of these would be ordered and approved by administrators who are only interested in adding more teachers.
Hanover County also has a problem of putting personal compassion ahead of sound economic practices.
While that is admirable, the cost to taxpayers is massive. With declining real estate values, Hanover is in a crunch. And while the county loses a few dollars in tax revenue with the decline in real estate value, the taxpayer is losing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of their life savings and personal wealth. Tax increases will only add insult to injury. Tapped out taxpayers simply cannot shell out more and more money. Unemployment in Hanover is historically high.
A few examples of the compassion over sound fiscal decisions:
Rather than layoffs, it has been the practice of Hanover County to use attrition and reassignment to reduce the workforce. In the private sector, fiscal solvency dictates that the most effective and expedient solution be used. And this is usually layoffs and salary reductions. And moves to part time instead of full time.
I have been unable to get an exact number and cost and may turn to some Freedom of Information requests to answer the question of health care benefits for part time employees. In the public sector, this is not the case. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for benefits for part timers? There is even one case a reader brought to my attention of a long time school board member being reappointed to that part time job until she was old enough for Medicare. That is truly compassionate, but that reported $15,000 per year in health insurance could be spent elsewhere. The millions of unemployed and uninsured Americans let go from the private sector did not have such a generous boss.
And we have members of the Board of Supervisors that have been double (triple?) dipping into county funds for jobs like school crossing guard.
And did you know the county employees get credits if they do not need health insurance? That was cut from a $400 credit to a $100 credit. Where I work if you don’t want health insurance, they don’t deduct anything. A credit for a benefit not wanted or needed? Not in the private sector. At least they cut it!
There are more examples – but they will be the subject of an investigative article in the not too distant future.
So How Bad are the School Cuts in Hanover?
The “massive” cuts that the “raise taxes to pay for schools” crowd is all wee-weed up about is 0.5%.
One half of one percent!
You would think the life of their first born was in jeopardy the way some people are carrying on about this.
And student enrollment is declining and expected to continue the downward trend for years to come!
The school budget includes a whopping increase for one item: books. They increased the schoolbook budget by 26.5%. I would say the priorities are pretty good here.
So what went down?
Food Services Budget saw a 0.04% decrease. What’s that, one less spoon per school?
There is nearly $2 million for new computers, a million each for facilities improvements and safety improvements. And half a million for School Buses.
And the budget has a lot of expenses we should eliminate. Or seriously question their need.
According to the 2013 proposed budget page (60 of 250) we will spend:
- $82,295 on Adult Education (isn’t it all about the children?)
- $13,498 for After School Integration Initiative
- $177,268 for a Drug Free Schools program. While everyone supports drug free schools, what the hell is this money actually doing?
- $1.3 Million for Elementary Counseling services. In elementary schools?
- $11.6 Million for Special Education and another $55K for “extended school year” special ed. Not that we shouldn’t educate special needs children, but how many of these are drug induced special needs kids with “legal” drugs oozing from their bodies.
- $2,500 for “Emerging Leaders” program.
- $1 million on Head Start.
- $23,576 Individual Student Alternative Education Plan
- $0 on something called “Learn and Serve” a $2,400 “cut”.
- $153,098 for Medicaid Reimbursement? What is this?
- $14,000 for a Mentor Teacher program
- $700,000 Miscellaneous Grants that are not even listed!
- $162,500 National Board Incentive – State
- $150,610 Perkins Grant
- $500,000 Reimbursement Accounts? Is this a half million slush fund?
- $83,075 Special Education Jail Program? Really?
- $20,000 for something called innovative Programs?
All of the above is on one single page of the 250 page budget document. And they are only the expenditures I would question.
Grab a copy of the budget and ask anyone who is demanding tax increases to pay for schools to justify this monstrosity. Here is the link to the 250 page budget.
I am sure most of these small items were added bit by bit over time. And once these are implemented, as Ronald Reagan said, they are then nearest thing to eternal life on this earth.
We are overspending on schools by millions of dollars.
But for those who desire to pay more for Innovative Programs or add to the slush reimbursement funds, here are a couple of ideas.
You could adopt one of these “Grant” programs and pay for Adult Education or Jail Special needs Education from your own funds.
Or better yet, just send in a generous donation to the county. County Treasurer Scott Harris even produced this “how to” guide requested by a Hanover Taxpayer:
Thanks for your email. I’ve researched the issue of making a gift or donation to the County. The County has authority to accept donations including cash and personal property. There is no provision for voluntary taxes as the State Code is pretty specific that there must an assessment to authorize a tax levy and payment. I know it’s probably a matter of semantics but the payment would legally be a gift or donation. Each individual should consult with their tax advisor relating to income tax implications…but in general, donations to the county would be deductible as are other charitable donations. Acceptance of gifts with restrictions would be a matter for consideration by the county administrator or board. As to where the donations would be sent, I’d have to ask the County finance staff to determine that and how donations could be facilitated. Once a process was in place checks could be made payable to ‘hanover county’ or to the treasurer.
For your information I’ve copied the finance department’s policy for accepting donations.
Finance Department Policies….
2-4 Donation Acceptance
A. Personal property, monetary and in kind donations:
(i) The department head may authorize acceptance of these donations with an estimated value below $5,000.
(ii) The County Administrator may authorize acceptance of these donations with an estimated value between $5,000 and $50,000.
B. Board of Supervisor’s authorization is required for acceptance of these donations with an estimated value greater than $50,000.
I hope I’ve answered your questions.
T. Scott Harris
Hanover County Commissioner of the Revenue
P. O. Box 129
Hanover, VA 23069
When we hire real administrators instead of “round peg in square hole” teachers looking for more money and an easier career, stuff like this school budget will stop happening.
Until then, the citizens of Hanover have to draw a line. Perhaps a few citizens to oversee the School Budget process and question and vet each and every line item in the School Budget will be helpful.