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The Right Note: APS Guestimates?

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

For years in this column, I have noted that the county annually underestimates revenue. As a result, the County Board creates a year-end slush fund of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to spend outside of the regular budget process. Arlington’s schools are a big beneficiary of this closeout process.

APS receives an infusion of the closeout dollars each year as a sizable mid-year boost to its budget. Last year it was about $10 million.

Now it appears APS may have learned from county budget writers as APS is consistently over-estimating enrollment when it builds its budget.

This could lead one to believe the school system is doing so in order to put a cushion in its annual budget. Earlier this spring, APS told us 28,495 students were expected to enroll at a total per-student cost of $23,569. This is the dollar figure you arrive at when you divide $671.6 million by 28,495.

Last week, APS announced that 27,996 students had enrolled. That’s a difference of 499 students. Not only does this increase the per student cost to $23,989, but it effectively gives APS nearly $12 million in added budget flexibility.

Last year, APS told us 28,027 students would enroll. The actual number was 591 students less or 27,436. That was over $13 million in potential budget flexibility.

Some might argue that APS is getting pretty close. After all, 499 students is less than a 2% error rate out of the total student population. Another way to look at it is that APS estimated 1,059 more students would enroll last week. When only 560 new students showed up, it means they missed it by 499 students. And that is a 47% error rate. That’s better than last year, but still pretty high.

At any rate, APS should re-evaluate how they are estimating enrollment every year because they are clearly missing something. And at nearly $24,000 spent per student, it adds up very quickly.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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