At the School Board meeting on Wednesday, May 4 Denita Ramirez (Woodbridge District) raised concerns about perceived inequities between schools in the eastern end of the county versus the western end. Of particular concern to her was the fact that new schools are being built in the western end of the county while schools in the eastern end struggle to get the technology they believe they need to adequately instruct their students. Interactive whiteboards were one of the technologies Mrs Ramirez mentioned were lacking in schools in her district.
“It’s my job to make sure that Woodbridge is getting what it needs to get,” Ramirez stated. “Right now, there are constituents that feel they are not getting what they should have in technology.”
Superintendent Waltz assured Mrs Ramirez and other school board members that the $1.3 million allocated in the FY 2012 budget for technology improvements would be used to purchase and install appropriate technology in schools in the east end of the county.
Mrs. Ramirez unwittingly opened the Pandora’s box in PWCS – perceived inequities between schools in the eastern end of the county versus the western end. The comments from Inside NOVA’s report on Mrs Ramirez’s concern indicate that this perception is alive and well in our county with folks from both ends of the county feeling short changed and some openly expressing their belief that the inequality stems from racial preferences.
Are those concerns and perceptions justified?
A little basic research using information readily available on the PWCS web site seems to indicate that those perceptions are completely without merit.
I used the approved SY 2011 budget and the final enrollment data for the 2011 school year to calculate a per pupil operating cost for each school. The operating costs are the funds given to each Principal to pay teachers and operate their school. They do not include funds for debt service, transportation, special ed, speech, occupational therapy, title I, II, III, IV, and other reimbursable charges.
This basic analysis showed that the per pupil operating cost for schools in each district was as follows:
- Brentsville – 6,215
- Coles – 6,523
- Dumfries – 6,411
- Gainesville – 6,375
- Neabsco – 6,883
- Occoquan – 6,388
- Woodbridge – 7,027
Contrary to Mrs Ramirez’s concerns that schools in her district aren’t getting their fair share, schools in Woodbridge District are allocated the greatest operating funds per pupil while schools in Brentsville and Gainesville Districts are allocated the lowest operating funds per pupil.
Much of the difference in funds allocated per pupil comes from differences in spending at the Elementary level. The 10 Elementary schools with the highest operating fund allocations per pupil are: Loch Lomond, Kilby, Neabsco, Dale City, McAuliffe, Sudley, Bel Air, River Oaks, Kerrydale, and Potomac View. The 10 Elementary schools with the lowest operating fund allocations per pupil are: Victory, Gravely, Glenkirk, Bristow Run, Swans Creek, Mountain View, Cedar Point, Springwoods, Bennett, and Ashland.
The Middle Schools with the highest per pupil operating fund allocations are Parkside and Woodbridge. Bull Run and Marsteller have the lowest per pupil operating fund allocations for Middle Schools.
The High Schools with the highest per pupil operating fund allocations are Potomac and Freedom. Battlefield and Woodbridge have the lowest per pupil operating fund allocations for High Schools.
This indicates that schools in neither end of the county are getting preferential treatment. Growth in the last 10 years has generally been in the western end of the county which is why so many of those schools are overcrowded and why so many new schools are being built there. Newer schools tend to be more energy efficient and have a greater percentage of newer teachers, so their operating costs are generally lower. That doesn’t fully explain why roughly $4,000 more per pupil is allocated for Loch Lomond versus Victory, but it does explain some of the difference.
One word of warning. It’s easy for things to get heated when discussing perceptions of inequitable treatment. From the comments on the Inside Nova article those perceptions are tied up in concerns about racial inequality. While school board members need to represent the concerns of their district residents, they need to be cautious when issues which might appear to be racially tinged are brought up. I was able to easily determine that perceptions of inequality are completely unfounded with basic research of information readily available to the public. I have to wonder why Mrs Ramirez was incapable of doing this research herself, or incapable of asking someone in the district to look into her concerns before she raised them in public session when she knew or should have known that such allegations would get people riled up. I also have to wonder why none of our school board representatives thought to ask district officials to report on funding inequalities before jumping on the bandwagon.