Friday, September 10, 2010

My wife's and my fantasy

Get your mind out of the gutter, it's not that kind of fantasy!

Each year we receive our school tax bill - it's a bit over $3,000 this year and it's always difficult to dig up enough money to pay it (which is why I teach over the summer and am basically a whore doing just about anything for a few extra dollars).

Since we home school, we not only get no benefit from this (as do many people without kids in the local schools), we also have to pay out-of-pocket (with no tax breaks) for our own educational supplies.  We spend another few thousand a year for all of that.

So each year we dream of how nice it would be to actually be able to use that school tax money to educate our own kids.  I know, I know, it's necessary to support public education but the tax burden should not fall unfairly on property owners (especially elderly property owners who are forced out of their homes by the tax burden).

This summer we learned Rondout Valley School District spends over $19,000 per student per year to educate them in the schools!  The national average is a little over $10,000 per students.  New York schools are the highest in the nation in per capita students spending and Rondout's near the top of that list. Read about it here.

I also know that many local Ulster County schoolteachers earn well over $100,000 a year - twice what many PhD college professors earn in the local SUNY colleges and universities.  Still they complain of being underpaid!

Well, for all that money, we must be getting an awesome education for our students, right?  Well our local community college gets a lot of local high school graduates and many of them place into remedial English and mathematics classes after entrance testing.  FACT:  There are students graduating local high schools who cannot do simple 8th grade algebra nor write a coherent paragraph!  How do you feel about that $19,000 per student per year now?

Just like some people fantasize about winning the lottery, my wife and I fantasize how nice it would be to have $38,000 per year to educate our two children!  We could study marsupials in Australia!  The French Revolution in France!  Spanish language lessons in Cancun!

Instead I may have to pick up a second night job to pay my school tax bill.


  1. Steve, I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a few months, but did not realize you were a homeschooler!

    We also homeschooled our two daughters, while paying high property taxes to our school district. However, we have been fortunate to live in a very well-managed school district, which we feel delivers a lot of value to the community.

    My daughters and I spent a lot of time volunteering in the local public schools during their homeschooling years, and we were impressed by the dedicated teachers and enthusiastic students we got to work with, both in our own suburban district, and also in the nearby inner city school districts. I am also very impressed by the smart and thoughtful people who serve on our school board--some are personal friends of mine. All board members serve without pay, and I believe they care very much about using tax dollars carefully to deliver as much value as possible to the community.

    I'm sorry to hear about the performance and cost problems at your school district. $19,000 does sound awfully high for a per pupil cost given that your district is not in a high-cost urban area.

    I believe that our school district graduates students who are very well prepared for college, whether they attend four-year colleges or the two excellent community colleges in our area.

    I looked at the figures. Your district is spending about $60M to educate 2,300 students. Our district spends $76M to educate 4,300 students.

    It's not entirely fair to judge the two school districts by that cost-performance ratio, however. Studies show that the most important variable in school achievement is not the amount of money spent, but whether students come from families in which parents place a high value on education. Our district attracts an usually large proportion of highly educated adults, because local employers require a number of scientists, engineers, physicians, attorneys, accountants, and other professionals in our area. Parents and the community in general expect a lot of value from our school system, and I believe we get it.

    Looking at the demographic figures for your area, I can see that Rondout serves a much more challenged population. And the state ed department has turned up some pretty sketchy financial practices in their recent audit, shown on the front page of your school district's website. It might be educational to contact your school board and ask them some tough questions about how they are ensuring your community gets the most value for its tax dollars. If you are not satisfied with the answers, perhaps you can seek out a like-minded friend or neighbor or colleague to run for school board. (Many of our most dedicated school board members are professors or retired professors whose children have grown up and who have time and expertise to share with the school district.)

  2. Also, I don't know how old your children are, but some of my daughters' most valuable educational experiences came from their volunteer work in the public schools. I think it might be a win-win situation all around for your family to consider if there's a place where you might get involved. I am sure that you and your wife have a lot to offer, and hopefully there are some sympathetic teachers doing good things in your school system who would value your assistance. Your children could assist at first, and later they could assume more independent leadership roles as volunteers.

    Volunteering at the school might give your children access to some of the educational resources purchased with your tax dollars AND at the same time it could improve the quality of education for other children attending the schools where you volunteer. If your own school system is not receptive, you might try a neighboring district--or even starting something at the public library. Also, check this out for information about a math circle run by a friend of mine in a library near you:

    Maybe your family could consider running something similar like a "science circle" at a library near you.

    The best way for kids to learn is to teach, in my opinion. My daughters started volunteering in local schools as enrichment mentors shortly after they began homeschooling at age 8. It was one of the smartest decisions I made as a homeschooling parent. Later on, as they got older, they coached math teams, ran an after-school science enrichment program, and got involved with a traveling troupe of adults that performed musical theater in the schools all over our area.