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The Right Note: Per Pupil Spending to Go Up

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast week, Arlington Public Schools’ Superintendent Patrick Murphy released his proposed budget. The total price tag is $539.4 million. Murphy reported per pupil spending would climb to $19,244. Those numbers were reinforced in a presentation by Arlington School Board members at this week’s Civic Federation meeting.

By way of comparison, tuition and fees this year at Marymount University are $26,430. Full-time tuition and fees for Spring 2014 at George Mason University are $5,129 for a new, in-state student — just over $10,000 total for a school year.

The APS budget proposes to make an iPad or tablet available to every second grader as well as a Chromebook for every sixth grader. It looks at the future possibility of providing foreign language instruction at every elementary school. And, it reflects higher health-care costs.

It is likely there are many line items in the budget that will come under intense scrutiny over the coming weeks and months before it is finalized in May. The purpose of this column is not to question specific line items within the school budget, but to question whether the presentation of the budget should under-report the actual total per pupil cost in our school budget?

The projected enrollment for the next school year is 24,153. If you divide $539.4 million by the projected enrollment, the per pupil cost is $22,333 — not $19,244.

It goes without saying that $3,089 per student is not a small difference. It adds up to more than $74 million that would not be accounted for in the total budget when you multiply the difference by the enrollment.

There is almost certainly an accounting rationale for Superintendent Murphy’s use of a per pupil spending figure that is $3,089 less than it actually is. However, if you are going to claim you are giving the taxpayers a per pupil cost, it should actually reflect the total cost per pupil to provide education to Arlington students.

The questions remains then, why does the APS budget report per pupil costs this way? It is a question our School Superintendent and School Board should answer.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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