Fri 13 Apr 2012
In the decade that I have been advocating for school improvement, the debate has raged over whether Manchester is spending too much or too little for education. Some people are of the opinion that we spend too much already and that most of what is spent is consumed by waste, fraud, and abuse or that there is no reason to spend more than we did in 1972. Others believe that we are not spending enough and we will never have a decent school system unless we spend more. Everything is relative. When you compare Manchester to other communities in NH using available data from the NH DOE and the NH Department of Revenue Administration, it is pretty clear that we are not just spending much less, but as a community we are investing much less.
For the last few weeks we have been debating the NH DOE per pupil expenditures. As of 2010-2011, Manchester was second from the bottom at $9, 826. Only Hudson which spent $9, 574 was lower. The average school district spends $12,775 per student. The formula the state uses includes all federal, state, and local revenue in its calculations. It does not include debt service, transportation, and some other expenses. The same formula is used for every school district. The Mayor argued that all inclusive Manchester spends $11,844 per pupil. Of course, when everything is included the average NH school district spends $15,585. Our schools are still underfunded by comparison, only more so.
Manchester receives the largest State adequacy grant ($56 million). We also get more federal money ($26 Million) than any other school district in the state. And yet, in spite of all that extra money from outside the city we are still spend less money on our students than almost any other community in the state.
How does that happen? Well, the average town contributes about 56% of the cost of educating their kids through local property taxes. This is just town administered taxes. The SWEPT tax is set by the state and local elected officials have no say as to how much to that will be.
Dover, which is close on our heels in terms of low funding , gets 50.4% of the $9,846 they spend on their kids from local property taxes, and the town of Hudson contributes 52.3% of their school costs. Nashua, which spends $11,022 per pupil, contributes 49.2% of the cost through local property taxes. Manchester local school property taxes account for 29% of the cost of educating our children.
Now you might argue that Manchester has a small tax base compared to the number of children we have to educate. That would make our taxes on our homes high but we still wouldn’t be able to raise much money. Manchester has a tax base of $8.2 Billion. It was $9.8 Billion before the recent revaluation. From that we raised $53,047,469 toward educating our 15,732 students. Nashua with a tax base of $8.4 Billion, raised $76,202,321 for their 12,613 students. They will be undergoing a revaluation this year. I am interested to see if Nashua loses more or less than the 15% we declined on its tax base.
When you compare the tax bills for a home valued at $200K, a Manchester resident would pay $1344 in local property taxes for schools, a Nashua resident would pay $1832, a Dover Resident would pay $2052 and our friends in Hudson would pay $1670. You might argue that Manchester is a poorer city. Our income is lower, so we can’t expect our homeowners to pay as much as people in other wealthier communities.
However, we don’t seem to make that argument when it comes to municipal taxes. The same $200K house in Manchester comes with a $2324 bill for city services, while the folks in Nashua pay $1660 and the folks in Dover pay $1902. I didn’t include Hudson because they don’t have a lot of the services that cities have.
And of course now that we have the tax cap, we are stuck in this low orbit of underfunding and it will require a lot of energy to break out of it.