Commentary: Schools can teach students well for less

Between local, state and federal taxes for publicly funded K-12 schools, Shelton pays $142 million per year. Money is not the problem.

To prove it, let’s try an Einstein-style thought experiment: (1) Imagine the best and worst schools. (2) Imagine transplanting the students of both schools. (3) What happens?

The probable result should not surprise anybody except for those who proclaim money to be the answer; the students who excelled will continue to excel and those who failed will continue to fail.

I have a classroom-centered school model. Including special education that, according to School Supt. Freeman Burr, costs twice as much for 11% of kids; the model is $6,000 per student plus 11% or $6,660 per student.

Assume that an average class size of 25 is chosen (one more than the federal recommendation to make the arithmetic easy). This would provide $166,500 in funding per year per classroom for the 206 classrooms (5,137 students) needed in Shelton; far less than the 299 classrooms and the 384 teachers we have now.

Since the mean SAT score is virtually unchanged since 1975 (the year I graduated from High School), I am unconvinced regarding the impact of microscopic class sizes on educational outcomes.

My budget

Pay teachers well at $85,000 per year (more than the $79,000 average Shelton pays now).

Textbook price ranges from $40 for high school English to $120 for high school chemistry. Let’s go for a conservative $100 per text with five texts needed per student per academic year.

Textbooks therefore cost us $6,250 for 25 students with new books for all students every other year. High school texts cost more than elementary texts.

Internet access is virtually free compared to this. Same goes for Microsoft Office 2010 at $88; the lower textbook costs for elementary school students can easily fund this software for all students in grades 7-12 and their teachers.

We can also buy 25 new computers for each class for $10,000 every other year ($5,000 per year cost).

A classroom for 25 students needs about 16 square feet per student, or 400 square feet. At $28.50 per square foot per year (utilities included), this is $11,400.

We already have school buildings but my point is that if we pay more, we’re doing something wrong.

As for transportation, Shelton pays $2.10 per ride — or $18,900 per class per year.

Per classroom costs

Teacher — $91,503 (includes 7.65% payroll tax)

Classroom and utilities — $11,400

Computers — $5,000

Books, software and Internet — $ 6,250

Transportation — $18,900

Total — $133,053

For all 206 required classrooms plus 11% extra for special education, this is $30.35 million.

Per school costs

The fact that there are eight city schools with small populations does not help; we should probably close two of them.

However, if each of the eight schools has a principal, nurse, counselor and two year-round maintenance people we have:

Principal — $120,000

Nurse  — $75,000

Counselor — $75,000

Maintenance (two) — $120,000

Total — $419,835 (includes 7.65% payroll tax)

Or $3.36 million for all eight schools.

This gives $33.7 million out of $34.2 million in budget (5,137 times $6,660). This is $2,250 per student with no sacrifice in quality.

Martin Hoffman is a Shelton resident.