Sunday, January 4, 2009

SP4K Program: The Return of Fuzzy Accounting

OK, folks, the proposal for the SP4K (Sun Prairie Four Kids-4 yr kindergarten) program is out on the school district website. Unfortunately, it's difficult to provide a link to it because of the way BoardDocs works. Memo to District: Something to look into. The proposal is listed on Board Docs under the agenda for the Education & Policy committee mtg for January 5th, under Business Items.

This proposal confirms many of our projections, but when the really big question comes up, it actually provides only more questions and no concrete answers. What's the big question? How much is this program going to cost us? Is it 6 coffees? 12? 50? Well it's hard to tell.

The program expenses are listed as dollar costs.
But "revenues" are listed in terms/units of "Revenue Cap increase"
...and that's like saying X minus Y = Grape

More on that in a sec. Two other items of note:

1. While the proposal indicates that DPI start-up funding ($700/child for 1st year programs in in 2008-09), this "revenue" is not included in the balancing attempt.

2. There is a note that funding will have a $603,000 shortfall in 2009-10, but that part of this shortfall would be covered by the $500,000 set aside in the current (08-09) budget for "one-time payments. Hold the phone, Tyrone! The board made it VERY clear that the $500,000 budget "surplus" would be used to offset future costs to start-up the new high school. We were NEVER told it would be used to fund a new program!

But we digress...back to the balance sheet...or lack thereof. Instead of the weird apples and oranges approach, why aren't we going back to basic accounting 10 know...expenses = X dollars and projected income to offset these expenses are Y dollars. The board/district also need to make every effort to estimate what this all means in terms of projected mill rate increase and then how that translates to property taxes on a typical $200K home.

Frankly, Mr. Shankly, if you look at the way they present the summary of "Net cost/revenue to the district", it appears that after the 1st year, we'll actually be making a profit off of a 4K program!!! Yeah right. If you believe that, there's a call for you from Bernard Madoff regarding a hot investment opportunity he has for you.

Why don't they want to tell us what it costs???

"Revenue Cap increase" is a nebulous thing at best. In addition, the revenue cap is merely the cap for all general fund budget items. This includes State equalized aid (what we get from the state) and Property tax levy (what those of us who pay our property taxes pay out of our pockets). And historically, our "Revenue Cap Limit" per child is just under $10,000. Then you have to bear in mind that roughly one half of that amount is provided through "equalized aid" (i.e., state money). We pay the other 50% through the property tax levy.

That means that we can expect to receive roughly $5,000 per 4K student from the state. Oh yeah...and 4K students only count as 0.5 or 0.6 "FTE pupils"...because they don't attend school full-time. Oh...and one more have to remember that the pupil count figure for determining state aid is calculated on a 3-year average. That means that for every 100 kids that enroll in the 4K program this year, we essentially get state aid for 33 of them. Then we get aid for 67 of them in Year 2 and the full state aid (at 60%) in the 3rd year.

Our estimate of cost using one approach is:

________________________2009-10 ___2010-11___ 2011-12
Rev. Cap. Increase __ $ 877,124 $ 1,938,551 $ 3,111,357
assume 50%= prop. tax $ 438,562 $ 969,276 $ 1,555,679

Equal.value (+ 3%/yr)
$4,039B _______$4,160B _____ $4,285B
mill increase ________$ 0.11 _____$0.23 _____$0.36
Cost per $200K home __$ 22 _______$ 46 ______$ 72

But I'm sure we-simplify things.
One thing that this all seems to indicate....for several years the school board has patted themselves on the back for NOT taxing us right up to the Revenue Cap. The constant reference to the Revenue Cap suggests that from here on in, the board will tax us right up to the revenue limit...or even hold a referendumn to EXCEED the limit.

Program Cost Summary from SP4K proposal
"Revenue" Summary from SP4K proposal