Wednesday, May 26, 2010


By Louis Pugliese | OpEd in the Daily News

Louis Pugliese is a lecturer in educational psychology at CSUN and a national board certified teacher.

05/26/2010 11:06:39 AM -- IN June, once again taxpayers will be asked to ante-up in a parcel tax for the financially and academically bankrupt LAUSD - the money-sucking bureaucratic nightmare that should have disintegrated long ago and gotten out of the business of running schools.

It's high time that Los Angeles Unified School District comes clean on the real costs to run a school - without the added cost of the district administration as the toll collector. Taxpayers, parents and teachers have the right to know what operating a school would take without the district's bumbling bureaucracy, fees, consultants, waste and "encroachments."

Of course, they'll never do that. So maybe it's best we just do it ourselves.

In the past, when pathetic attempts have been made to explain just what money comes in and what goes out, district estimates for student funding and costs have shifted faster than the Dow Jones average or the price of gasoline. However, we did get a usable set point recently when district officials whimpered that they were losing enrollment-based state funding from kids who were attending schools out of the district. That figure was $5,000 a year for each student - "more or less."

If we assume this is a good approximation, we can do some simple math ourselves to build a model of a 500-student school with only 25 students per class, teachers paid union-level wages and benefits, and half-time teacher aides in every classroom.

Sounds like a great school.

Here's what it would cost per year to operate:


500 students x $5,000 = $2.5 million


20 teachers = $1.4 million

2 administrators = $200,000

3 office staff = $175,000

2 custodians = $100,000

10 school aides = $173,000

Books, furniture and equipment ($1 million, over five years) = $200,000

Total cost: $2.248 million

The surplus cash of $252,000 could be used for special school programs, supplies, training, etc. That's a spectacular $504 extra per student, per year - and more than $12,000 per classroom each year!

Eat your heart out, status quo. Some teachers stay up all night for months writing grants to bring in a fraction of that.

What about special education, mandated programs, intervention, lunches, and English Language programs? Simply, much of the cost for those programs get paid to schools in addition to the $5,000 per student. In reality, many if not most district schools receive more than $7,500 per student based on student demographics.

With that figure, each 500-student school would have a whopping $1.5 million dollar surplus. It's no wonder that charter schools are keeping class sizes low and still offering college-prep classes, sports and the arts, while the district continues to ransack our kids' education.

As far as facilities and building costs, not only does the district own the schools outright and tax-free, but they hit us up for another $8 billion more in construction bonds two years ago. And let's not forget that the district is now stuffing up to 40 kids in some classes at gargantuan schools with thousands of students.

So where is the money? And why does LAUSD need more? Why do our kids continue to suffer overcrowded classrooms, program cuts and shortened school years? Why do our teachers have to bear the burden for this incompetence and selfishness? And why, oh why, should we fork over even another dime for this abuse?

The estimates above are not exact. In fact, the income projection is purposefully low. While there will be some unaccounted-for costs, there are also plenty of unaccounted-for revenues that always seem to get left out when the district cries poverty.

No matter how district officials now plead their case for the parcel tax, as long as they address the real dollar-for-dollar costs and income of individual schools, there will be no way that LAUSD can show us that teachers, students, parents and taxpayers wouldn't all be better off without them.


●●smf's 2¢: Louis Pugliese is a great guy – I consider him a friend and a friend to public education. But he is not a fiscal specialist, he is "a lecturer in educational psychology". You really don't want him doing a budget.

He misses some key budget points beyond the ones he glosses over. Special Education – a federal mandate - is spectacularly underfunded – the "unaccounted for revenues" don't come close.

Pugliese's school has no library or librarian. No nurse. No food services. It has no music or art teacher. Using his numbers it apparently doesn't pay any employers share of social security or employment taxes. Let alone insurance, pensions, healthcare benefits, retirement plans. 

(The not paying the employers share of the taxes puts at least one of two administrators in prison. Who pays for the legal defense, court costs, fines and penalties?)

In Pugliese's school with no nurse the teachers and staff never get sick, so there is no need for substitute teachers, ever.  When it turns out there is lead in the water from the old pipes who pays for the testing and the fix? Who fixes the computers, the copier, the roof? There is no allowance  for Maintenance and Operations, no wear and tear. No utilities and water. I love schoolchildren, but wear and tear are their job descriptions.

Mostly Pugliese's school has no union contract.

In rule-of-thumb reality, it costs twice as much to educate a special ed/special needs child – using Pugliese's back o' th' envelope budgeteering those kids cost $10K per year  to educate and bring in maybe $6K or 7K – and 11% of the general ed population fits into this category. Suddenly the math becomes complicated and algebra raises its ugly head.

(There is a simple solution: Evidence shows that charter schools tend to push these kids out and back to district schools.)

Pugliese's "spectacular" $5o4 savings amounts to $2.40 per student per school day. For this you get no library, no nurse, no M&O, no food service, no water, no power, unfixed plumbing and computers, no toner for the copier, no TP or paper towels in the restrooms and the principal in the slammer.

No thanks.

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