The analogy goes like this: A family reduces its cable TV bill from $100 to $50 a month. The next day, they go out and buy a plasma screen TV for $1,000 and then say they “cut” their home entertainment budget at the end of the month by $50.
“After all,” said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “You could have spent $1,100 but only spent $1,050.”
Van Beek said that is the mindset of many public school administrators when they tell legislators and residents that they “cut” their budget by millions despite it growing larger.
The latest example is Bay City Public Schools.
Bay City’s Director of Finance and Accounting Sarah DuFresne, said the district has reduced operating expenditures by over $24.6 million since 2001, according to Mlive.com.
Bay City Superintendent Douglas Newcombe said that DuFresne’s data was accurate.
However, according to the Michigan Department of Education, Bay City’s general fund expenditures was $72.9 million in 2001. It is budgeted for $74.3 million in 2011.
That’s an increase of $1.4 million overall.
Newcombe said the increase was due to other rising costs throughout the district as well as the loss of federal dollars.
“The cuts offset increases in other places,” Newcombe said.
He said the budget would have been $24.6 million higher in 2011 without the cuts.
Van Beek has been critical of that way of describing cuts. Van Beek said if that was the case, any reduction in spending means the budget has been cut no matter how much the overall budget increases.
“Apparently in the world of public school accounting, not spending as much money as one might like or expect to is a ‘budget cut,’” Van Beek wrote in an email. “Using this logic, the only way districts wouldn’t make cuts is if they spent more on everything every year.”