• Arne Mortensen

About the Nove2019 Longview School Bond ballot measure

The Longview School Board has placed a bond measure on the November Ballot to fund various “educational” purposes. I’ll go over those purposes in subsequent postings so that we can keep focus on each issue separately.

1 – I put educational purposes in quotations because I have yet to hear how spending more money improves education. I have listened to the Longview Schools Superintendent speak on the bond issue, but his sales pitch not once has included academic goals. Not once has he given statements of guarantee of performance for the huge sum of money in the bond issue.

He has in the past mentioned how the graduation rate has soared at the Longview High Schools. Of course, that is a nearly if not totally meaningless metric. Standards easily are fiddled to accommodate the outcome we want. And, even without fiddling, we don’t know whether, say, the bulk are graduating with a C- composite score. And we still don’t know if the graduates are employable.

Longview schools have been around for quite some time, so there is data that can be used to get a good metric of performance. For example, what really counts is how well our students do when they go out in the real world. We don’t have to make any judgements about career choices and other such noisy and potentially convenient but useless arguments. We can look at the salaries of our graduates, binned in various time scales, such as a sliding five-year window. I can’t imagine myself doing a job without reviewing my performance data, yet that is how we manage our schools.

2 – The huge sum of money is advertised as $119 million. But that is really misleading because there is interest to be paid on the money. I asked what coupon rate is expected, and I was given the figure of 3%. I also was given 21 years as the duration of the bond. Using these numbers, the full cost of the bond is approximately $160 million. That amounts to approximately $7.6 million /year that must come from the taxpayer. And that is above the expenditure that would be obligated without the bond.

I am guessing that Longview has about 15,000 households, which means that the bond will cost each household an additional $500/year. The school bond brochure advertises the number to be $176/year. Let’s see if that makes sense: the population of Longview is 38,000; the ratio between my household cost estimate and theirs is 2.9 ($500/$176), which means that I should scale up my estimate of the households by that number. 2.9 x 15,000 yields 43,500 households, a number greater than the population of Longview. Something is wrong either in my estimate or theirs.

3 – Another way to look at the money is to note that the bulk of the money, ~$127 million, is being spent on two elementary schools, which currently handle about 720 students. But the plans call for some consolidation up to a total of about 1,100 students. Over 21 years, these facilities will handle 1,100 times 21 => 23,100 pupil years. The cost divided by 23,100 yields $5,500 per pupil per year. That adds to all the other costs, likely yielding more than $16,000 per pupil per year. Ask yourself, if you could get that allowance for your child to spend at any school, would you use a private school?

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