Eshelman: Real per-pupil spending in school district almost $27K – more than Castleton college tuition, room & board

by H. Jay Eshelman


It’s time to read your town warning for this year’s annual meetings. As you do so, please consider what is certain to be the most expensive article you will be asked to approve – your school district budget.

Don’t get into the weeds of each line item… at least not at first. Simply consider the overall school budget and the number of students it serves. The veracity of each line item, after all, is irrelevant. The school board is not required to spend the funding as it’s presented for approval. Once the school budget is passed, your school board will spend the money in any way it sees fit.

Below is an example of what you might see. This is the school’s budget article in my town, and only for grades K-8. And keep in mind that the so-called ‘spending per equalized pupil’ is the first instance of financial smoke and mirrors you will see. While the equalized student enrollment is approximately 220 students in Westminster, in reality, there are fewer than 200 K-8 students in the district. This is because the State’s method of allocating funds increases the actual enrollment by more than 10%.

How the State calculates its ‘equalized pupil’ enrollment is, for the most part, arbitrary. If you’re interested to see how the sausage is made, watch the videos for the 1-12-23 joint House Education and Ways and Means meetings discussing Act 127. It shows how the State legislators arbitrarily change the actual student enrollment numbers (Average Daily Membership – ADM) to the Equalized Student Enrollment numbers. Keep your Ouija Boards at the ready.

But I digress.

Article 10: Shall the voters of the Westminster Town School District approve the school board to expend the sum of $5,149,731 (five million, one hundred forty-nine thousand, seven hundred thirty-one dollars) which is the amount the Board has determined to be necessary for the ensuing year? It is estimated that this proposed budget, if approved with the $300,000 reduction proposed in Article 3, will result in education spending of $21,888 per equalized pupil. This projected spending per equalized pupil is 14.4% higher than spending for the current year. Without the reduction using surplus funds, the projected spending per equalized pupil is $23,266.

As you read this article, consider the ramifications of its passage and the circumstances affecting it.

–        Using Westminster’s ‘actual’ enrollment, projected spending is $26,870 per pupil.

–        The State average student per teacher and paraeducator ratio is less than 4 to 1.

–        The State average student to total public education staff ratio (Superintendents to Bus Drivers) is less than 2 to 1.

–        Only 40% of Vermont’s public-school students meet grade level standards.

–        And still, 90% of these public-school students graduate.

Now consider that a Vermont student can attend Castleton State University, as a full-time undergraduate, for $25,482 per year – including tuition, student association fees, student resources fees, and for new students, the new student registration/orientation fee. Room and board are included too.

No. I haven’t addressed what actually happens in our public-schools. Cost and academic performance is one thing. ‘Indoctrination’ is, after all, in the eyes of the beholder. But discipline and student safety are a greater concern than ever before.

Fortunately, in Westminster, we do have one benefit many other parents don’t have – our 7th & 8th graders receive School Choice tuition vouchers. The 2022-2023 Average Announced Tuition of Union 7th-12th Grade Schools was $17,278.00. It will be interesting to see how much next year’s voucher will be, given the increase in annual costs this year. Hopefully, the tyrants in the legislature, who are considering doing away with the tuitioning voucher, will be thwarted. But who knows with a super-majority in the State House.

As I said:  WARNING!

The author is a Westminster resident.

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. Just imagine these funds in the hands of parents (maybe even half of it) …instead of going to institutions —- parents already know what teachers they’d hire…what courses they contract for…what neighbors they’d form coops with…what classroom space they’d rent…What organizations they do business with…what criteria they’d use to judge “satisfaction” with service…how the “who’s good for what” clearinghouse network would develop. An Educational Renaissance would bloom.

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