March 30, 2010

And just who owns that $100,000 home?

As I was writing up last night's story on Racine Unified's reinvestment presentation, one nagging thought came to mind: Just how many homeowners living within the school district own that $100,000 home on which taxes would rise $92 to $120 per year?

Keep in mind, we're not chastising Unified for using the $100,000 figure; every taxing body does when talking about bonding costs. Still... how relevant is it, except as a starting point?

I called Jim Ladwig, County Registrar of Deeds, who set me onto Patrick J. Harmann, manager of the Real Property Lister's Office. Pat sent me voluminous spreadsheets listing far more information than I needed, but it came down to this.  We divided the total assessed valuation of all residential property by the number of homes in each community to come up with an average figure. The value of undeveloped homesites slightly skews the resulting average home value figure, but it's the best we can do.

In any case, here's what the numbers show:

If I've calculated the math correctly, the average home within the school district is assessed at $168,695. (Total value of $7,576,936,310 divided by the number of homes: 44,915.)

Someone else had second thoughts about a set of numbers. Caledonia Unplugged took exception to David Hazen's bar chart comparing the  amount spent per student by Unified, before and after referenda costs are calculated, with other area districts and the state average. Nobody's questioning the actual figures, but Caledonia Unplugged says the graphic, taken from one of Dave Hazen's slides, "struck me as disingenuously intended to amplify this supposed difference."

Here's Hazen's bar chart, followed by one from Caledonia Unplugged. Clearly, depending on where you set the X axis  changes the graphic representation of the difference in spending among districts. Caledonia Unplugged set his at $0, thus minimizing the representation of the different spending levels. Hazen did the opposite.

Caledonia Unplugged sees this chart example as a "to what extent will they try to trick us" issue, and there's no question that he's right about the graphic representation being skewed. I tend to look at the numbers rather than the graphic depiction -- no matter how you draw it, Unified is still spending $798 less per student than the state average. And that's not a pretty picture, especially given our student population's needs. You decide. Not that the amount of money spent is the be-all, end-all answer...


  1. Using the $100,000 home, even if it's not as common, makes it easy to figure out how much you're going to pay on your own home -- simple math. (And since I graduated from Unified, I need the math simple. Oh, cheap shot, sorry.)

    Yes, it does seem pitiful that we've got kids with such challenging backgrounds and so much need and we're spending less than places where kids have all the advantages. Makes you scratch your head. Sure, it's harder for our community to afford -- but ultimately we pay for the issues that are created when so many kids don't graduate.

  2. Here is another graph to think about: if we allow spending to approach infinity will the intelligence/education level of students also approach infinity? Of course not. How much is enough? Trcik question.

    People can piddle over who spends on average a few hundred bucks more or less per student but spending more does not mean anything without execution.

  3. Tim the Shrubber3/30/2010 2:34 PM

    What is the median home value? It might be a number closer to $100,000 than $168,000.

  4. Agreed on using median. I think that will produce a more accurate picture. It would probably bring the total down a bit, maybe in the $130,000 range.

    I could be wrong. Good point though Shrubber

  5. We should be proud of spending less per pupil than the State avg. It means we are frugal, not spendthrifts, and not raping the citizen.

    How does our teacher Wage/Benefits pkg per student compare to the State avg.?????

  6. This ain't going to happen. What are these guys smoking. We are in the worst economic times in recent history and we have the worst academic scores in the state. RUSD is a losing proposition - send your kids to a private school and avoid guns, gangs, knives, fights, cops required in the schools, high dropout rate, low percentage going to collage, dealing with the worlds worst element (unions), an incompetent School Board and Administration - parents should be ashamed of themselves for putitng thier children through this

  7. The size of the pie/student may be below the state avg. The pie is made up of many pieces.
    If we took 10% of the wage/benefit slice and gave it to the bldgs we would go a long way toward improving the classroom. I don't think we would have many (if ANY) teachers quit, even with a 10% pkg reduction. Even at 15%!

  8. If we took 10% increase on the property tax slice and gave it to the bldgs we would go a long way toward improving the classroom. I don't think we would have many (if ANY) residents move, even with a 10% property tax increase. Even at 15%!

  9. Pete - yes, we do spend $798 less than the state average. Of course, you have to figure into the averaging, the fact that Milwaukee spent $16,385 in school year 2009-2010. Probably the highest cost/student in the state, yet they continue to have the poorest performing school district in the state.

    So really, does the amount spent correlate with performance?

  10. Hey, Caledonia! Don't take it out on me, I don't know from nuthin' about Milwaukee.


    (But these figures are 2008 -- so unaffected by whatever they spent in 2009)

    P.S. Thanks for the bar chart. Figured you wouldn't mind if we ran it, given your comment on the earlier story!

  11. @3:25pm - Where exactly do you go to collage?

    3:25pm said "parents should be ashamed of themselves for putitng thier children through this" - Looks like you are speaking from experience based on the spelling errors! Not the spelling police here but if you are going to criticize at least get the spelling correct!

    Just sayin!

  12. Sorry, that would be 3:45pm! Oops, who am I to criticize if I can't even get the right time! LOL - my bad!

  13. Anonymous:

    I believe 3:25pm would have gone to college. A collage is an art form. So much for your great spelling skills.

  14. Pete-- Tim the Shrubber is right. Property value distributions usually have a long tail to the right (so do income distributions), which increases the mean, but has much less affect on the median. For such skewed distributions, the median is a much better single number summary of what the "typical" home is valued at.

  15. Anon: You and Tim can work this out yourselves. I have neither the data nor the inclination to calculate the median of 44,000 assessed valuations...

    By all means, let me know what you discover.

  16. Pete - no problem with the chart. Just trying to make the point, maybe not too well, that the cost of an education doesn't always correlate with quality, so I don't think what we spend in relation to the rest of the state really is all that relevant.

    Although there certainly are other factors to consider, did a little further research and discovered that cities such as Oshkosh, Appleton (close in population to Racine) are spending about $6800 a year per student with an 87% graduation rate - go figure ;^)

  17. Tim the Shrubber3/30/2010 9:57 PM

    Pete - Do you have a file of all 44,000 assesed valuations?

  18. Cal, c'mon. Appleton and Oshkosh are "close in population" to Racine? Now who's just talking about numbers?

  19. 7:16 - you are correct, but it is really more of a typing problem rather than spelling - but I'll accept the correction.

  20. Pete - absolutely - how long have you lived in Wisconsin? We're closer in size to Appleton and Oshkosh than the majority of cities on Unified chart.

    Green Bay 102,000
    Kenosha 90,000
    Racine 80,000
    Appleton 70,000
    Oshkosh 62,000
    Janesville 59,000
    Oak Creek 28,000
    S. Milwaukee 21,000

    Look at the numbers and you tell me. If a spending comparison is made to the two cities closest in population:

    Kenosha $11,544
    Racine $11,096
    Appleton $6,512 (2009 numbers, might have been less for 2008)

    Given Racine's school district extends outside the city's boundaries, but so do the other municipalities.

    Also given, Unified used SE Wisconsin - for the most part. But why the inclusion of Green Bay and not Appleton? Clearly Appleton is closer in size and location. Oh wait, I get it, Appleton spends much less and that wouldn't facilitate the purpose of their chart.

    The chart has us compared wi

  21. Cal, what I said was "Now who's just talking about numbers?"

    What I meant was that population NUMBERS don't tell the comparison story -- it's a question of DEMOGRAPHICS, poverty, joblessness, English as a second language, union environment, etc. But I suspect you already knew that.

    Still, don't try to make me into an apologist, 'cuz I ain't one.

  22. Green Bay and Kenosha are best districts for comparison sake when considering size, minority populations, etc.

  23. "it's a question of DEMOGRAPHICS, poverty, joblessness, English as a second language, union environment, etc."

    you forgot global warming -

  24. 11:26 - it's now Climate Change - they could not sell us on Global Warming.

  25. Where's Al Gore????

  26. Actually Oshkosh and Appleton aren't similar. Both those cities districts basically cover the city and some lightly populated rural areas because those cities don't have the large villages around them. RUSD covers a population nearly twice as large as either Appleton and Oshkosh. Don't bother arguing I grew up there and know the area well.

    The work with the Deeds office is very useful because it shows the real cost we face and the deception of RUSD to try to shove this on us.

    It is sad the level elected officials and their staff's go to fool the taxpayer/voter.

  27. anon 3:09 - I will defer to your knowledge on Appleton/Oshkosh.

    Pete - I read too many blogs and very quickly and misread your statement. I agree about the demographics, etc. for some of the communities (Janesville, Kenosha) - not necessarily Green Bay, though. Their minority community is much smaller, higher employment rates, etc.

    Again, though we have the inclusion of two rather small school districts. Oak Creek, which is actually Oak Creek/Franklin Joint is probably about 1/3 the size of Racine, and S. Milwaukee which is even smaller. Yes, I'm discussing size, but again the demographics, particularly in Oak Creek/Franklin don't line up with Racine's.

    IMHO, the only true comparison for both size and other demographics would be Kenosha, which only spends slightly more than Racine. But doesn't that school district's performance surpass Racine's by quite a bit?

    Not trying to make you into an apologist, Pete, just very skeptical of the RUSD referenda process based on past experience, but I suspect you already knew that ;^)

  28. Kenosha does perform better than Racine Unified and does have a higher tax base. Another factor in success no one can quantify is the students constantly hearing negativity toward their education and school. This negativity is generally absent in Kenosha and prevalent here. The negativity gives the older students an "out" because the "school is bad anyway".

  29. Any one who actually thinks spending per student is in any way tied to student performance needs to stop drinking the Kool Aid. It takes good teachers and parents to educate a child. There are many examples of
    "Taj Mahal" schools that did nothing to improve education. Let's deal with the out of control WEAC contract and then give our schools options to deal with out of control kids/parents.