By Betsy Tainer
University Place School District supports open enrollment. Until every seat is filled, out of district (OOD) enrollments are not turned away. As a result more than 1,062 of the 5,615 students in 2012-13 school year did not live in UPSD. 23.33% of enrollments, much higher, 25% at Curtis High School.
These are just the ones they know about. Every indication is that the actual number is quite a bit higher. Until every seat is filled no documentation is required to establish residency. Where the average cost in UPSD to educate 1 student for 1 year is $9,301.87.
Total cost to educate non-resident students is $9,878,586. 20% of the UPSD annual budget of $50,431,883.
The reasons for supporting this enrollment policy range from:
- So we can compete at a level 4A in sports
- It actually brings more money into the district then it costs
- It enhances the educational experience
- It’s required by law to admit any student while space is available
Well, as it turns out, none of those reasons are true.
The school district maintains that supporting an open enrollment policy saves us money. At the same time they boast that supporting out of district enrollments costs the average homeowner $97.60 per year. So, begs the question, which is it? A savings or a cost?
The school district admits to hiring 50 teachers to support this enrollment policy at a cost to us of over $4,000,000.
50 teachers of the 300 teachers throughout the district is 16.6% of our teachers. Teacher salaries makes up 83% of the district budget. So, let’s do the math on that: .166 * .83 * $50,431,883 = $6,948,804 is the cost to us to support 50 additional teachers.
When you’re hiring 50 teachers to support OOD students that is not admitting to capacity and filling out classroom space that would otherwise go unoccupied. Hiring 50 teachers is clearly creating capacity.
Anyone who’s gone to college knows that the cost of textbooks is massive. Granted the cost of K-12 textbooks purchased in bulk would not be as extreme. However, with nearly 25% of student enrollments being out of district, it means that we have 25% more books then we need. 25% more desks then we need. 25% more paper, printer ink, printers, support staff, etc., than we need. You could get to $9,000,000 per year in overall costs to support this policy quickly and with very little effort. That’s nearly 20% of their entire annual budget.
The school district supporting this policy also costs us in the level of pay for the superintendent, principals, and other high level support staff. Their level of pay is partially based on their level of responsibility, as measured by the enrollment numbers. This is not an accident.
LEA was implemented in the State of Washington in 2010 and its purpose is spelled out in RCW 28A.500.010:
“The purpose of these funds is to mitigate the effect that above average
property tax rates might have on the ability of a school district to raise local
revenues to supplement the state’s basic program of education. These funds
serve to equalize the property tax rates that individual taxpayers would pay
for such levies and to provide tax relief to taxpayers in high tax rate school
LEA was implemented to provide tax relief due to our weak economic base. Because of the size and the demographic makeup of our community, we are not infused and supported with shopping centers, manufacturing, distribution centers, shipping, technology or, aircraft manufacturing facilities. The majority of the tax burden is carried by homeowners as proven by our higher than average individual property tax rate to support our local schools.
It was not intended to promote budgetary inflations, designed to create a larger burden on us to gain access to that money.
Our levy rate is the 14th highest in the state of 295 school districts.
Encouraging OOD enrollment is part of UPSD’s strategy to achieve the maximum result of LEA funding. Funding that was intended to relieve our tax burden.
Wait a minute. We’re protected by levy lids, right? Well, yes and no. The levy lid act of 1978 protects 205 of our 295 state school districts. 90 school districts were ‘grandfathered’ due to a history of local support of their schools. UPSD is one of those 90 school districts and benefits with a levy lid set at 32.29% of revenue. UPSD grows their budget and levy amount to hit this lid. That lid was raised 4% recently and UPSD once again raised their budget to maximize their newly gained limits.
Of the $9,301 average cost to educate one child for one year in our district. State and Federal revenue is $6,921. $2,380 is the average local property tax supporting each student. We are paying $2,572,560 out of our pockets to educate children who don’t live in our district. That’s 20% of our local levy amount. Simple math would make your local property taxes 20% higher than they need to be to support our schools. It’s not that simple, obviously, but it’s not far off.
Where school district funding makes up nearly half of our property tax burden the potential for savings on your property taxes is huge WITHOUT impacting the level of funding required to educate OUR children.
How would this all play out in your property taxes if the enrollment policy were tightened? Hard to say. I believe that if they tightened their enrollment policy and required documentation to prove residency within the district that many of those out of district enrollments would move into the district thus boosting our local economy strengthening the value of our schools.
These new residents would pay local taxes supporting our infrastructure (TBD, utility, gasoline, sales, etc). These new residents would shop locally and boost our local economy and help make University Place a desirable place to do business. The potential to positively impact our local economic base is huge. With a stronger economic base, our community becomes more desirable, and our property values go up while our individual tax burden would be dispersed over a stronger economic base.
We might pay the same amount to give our children a superior educational experience. Imagine our schools supported at a level that would gain national recognition for achievement. Imagine our children having an educational experience that includes wood and metal shop and other trades that would round out their experience and give them a broader range of tools to support themselves in their adult life. Imagine our kids playing on the football team instead of warming the bench while Tacoma kids make or break the play. Imagine our school district promoting AP participation and making every effort to approach every single drop out and get them back in school.
We might save some money or a lot of money to give them the same level of education that they are getting now.
The school district would have to grind the numbers. Adjust the budget. Adjust the level of support, teachers, equipment, etc. What? Yes, work! Work for us. Work to achieve excellence without pinning us to the floor and beating every last nickel out of us to give OUR KIDS the best education possible with our tax dollars without putting excessive strain on our ability to pay by bloating the budget to support the educational experience of children who we are not required to educate.
Also note, that when I asked a school board member some specific questions, regarding the school district budget, the response was, “Oh! We don’t peel the onion back. It’s a simple up or down vote.” What? I thought we elected school board members to set policy and goals for us. They are our first line of defense in protecting our interests and they don’t ask the tough questions or make any effort to keep a watchful eye on how our dollars are spent or what direction our school district is going.
In January while questioning a UPSD school board member about budget issues. I was warned of the dangers of a failed levy and advised to address issues to the superintendent and the board if I wanted them to address concerns. In March, while questioning UPSD regarding non-resident student enrollment policies, I was told that the levy passed with overwhelming support and that my concerns would not be addressed.
Please take a minute and let Patti Banks and our school board know that we do not support this policy. This policy is hurting our community, our local economy, and our home values. This is a bad policy.
Are we ready and willing to pay for a ‘superior’ educational experience for our children? Yes and H-Yes!
Are we willing to pay to support an ‘acceptable’ educational experience for a student body that is not composed of our children at a huge expense to us? No and H-No!
Editor’s Note: The above was re-printed from the UPtaxes.org website.