A rebuttal on school levy attacks | Guest View

By Andy Muntz | Feb 05, 2014
Andy Muntz

We have always been forthright about the fact that the cost of salaries and benefits is by far the Mukilteo School District's largest expense.

Schools don’t buy wholesale products or buy raw materials like other businesses. Our costs are mainly tied up in the employees who provide instruction and do all the other things necessary to educate children.

In the issue of Your Schools that was just mailed to all school district residents, it shows that about 84 percent of our operating budget is allocated to salaries and benefits.

We also say the same thing with regard to the levy. Our official fact sheet lists among the things funded by the levy, “competitive salaries for all teachers and other district staff.” The key word here is “competitive.”

State funding provides the school district with enough money to cover about two-thirds of the actual cost of employing a teacher. The remainder comes from the levy.

Without that levy funding, a beginning teacher right out of college with a bachelor’s degree would make $34,048 a year, for example. It would be $40,820 if that person arrived with a master’s degree.

But, in order to attract the best teachers and support staff to Mukilteo schools, we need to provide higher salaries than that. The difference is what is covered by the levy.

With regard to administrators, we do pay our administrators a higher salary than what the state allocates per position, but we also fund far fewer administrative positions than what the state formula generates.

In comparison with the other 20 largest school districts in the state, we allocate a lower percentage of total expenses to administrative costs than nearly all of the others, and we allocate more to teaching and teaching support costs than all of the other largest school districts.

The Op-Ed writer also implies that our teachers have 23 early-release days for professional development. Our teachers actually have 12 early-release days for professional development.

Other early-release days include three for report card preparation, five for elementary teachers to do parent-teacher conferences, and early-release days on the day before Thanksgiving, Winter Break, and on the last day of school.

Regarding enrollment, the writer makes the fundamental mistake of mixing the two basic ways of counting students: headcount and full-time equivalent. They are two completely different things.

Headcount is the number of bodies that are in the school. Full-time equivalent (FTE) is the method for counting students for purposes of state funding. A kindergarten student who attends school for half a day, for example, is counted both as a headcount of 1.0 as well as 0.5 FTE.

Comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. The Op-Ed writer mixes the two ways of counting students when he concludes that enrollment is dropping.

For the counts in 2011 and 2012, he uses a headcount number from the State Report Card (which is problematic in itself because it is actually a snapshot in time that includes some students, such as preschool special education students, who are not counted in other reports).

Then, for 2013, he compares those headcount numbers to an average FTE count taken from a state document called a 1251 Report.

Well, of course that number is going to be lower than the other numbers because it’s counting as partial students all kindergarteners and all high school students who are attending outside classes, such as Running Start.

A more consistent way to compare students over time is another part of the 1251 Report that indicates actual headcount. These are the numbers that we use for facility planning purposes.

For October 2011, that number is 14,575. It climbs to 14,633 in 2012 and 14,886 in 2013.

Andy Muntz is the spokesperson for the Mukilteo School District.

Read the Op-Ed this rebuttal is referring to here.

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