Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tuition Demographics from Mike M.

School's out.  Happy summer, everybody!

School Board Meeting, June 19

Before I get into demographics, I should mention the recent school board meeting.  FORE did a nice roundup.

As expected, the board voted 5-2 to accept the football recommendation, meaning no football for now.  Members Lane and Turnbull voted against the recommendation.  As a consolation prize, the board voted to continue the football committee, so this will come up again.  It appears reality has set in, with most people realizing that full or near-full outside funding is not a real possibility for the long term, so the district would be on the hook for a large part of the bill.   We still have the problem of insufficient field space, with no room for football or any additional sports needed to address Title IX concerns.

The surprising discussion was about Title IX.  I learned the district was currently involved in a Title IX lawsuit and that the main issue was less participation in girls' sports.  Adding football would exacerbate the problem, increasing sports participation by perhaps 60 boys.   Nonetheless, member Lane seemed to be advocating a course that would open up the district to more legal trouble.  She said,
"While Title IX is gravely important, if it is fixed by either eliminating a sport that has 5 or 6 kids playing versus 60 according to what [the student representative] presented to us [...] that to me is the issue. [...] We can have all these discussions about Title IX but I think it's just a way of dodging the question."
A "fix" that adds 54 boys is no fix at all, as we all learned at the meeting.  Board members need to take issues of legality seriously, as they found out the hard way a couple of years ago.

The superintendent reported on two meetings with parents about All Day Kindergarten.  While there is strong support for the concept, there was broad agreement that the tuition was too high, especially because as proposed K won't go until 5:30pm.  A strong contingent thought the district should not be charging at all.

I made the point that it wasn't right to take money from district taxpayers to fund a program that takes business away from local daycares offering K.  The superintendent assured me the local daycare businesses are in favor of free district full day K, which apparently frees up their slots for preschoolers who pay more.  I should also mention that at the previous meeting the wording of the All Day K motion was retroactively changed so as only to authorize the superintendent to "explore" full day K.

Member Lane offered her own analysis of the economics of full day K:
"... and if we're trying to align ourselves so we can offer full day Kindergarden at no cost then we have to look at the nuts and bolts of why we have to charge for it: because we have a much more expensive staff than other districts do."
I haven't crunched the numbers, but it seems likely to me that if providing full day K costs more in Oyster River it's mostly due to our class sizes.   I think our policy says up to 19 for K, but lately I don't think we've been exceeding 16.  The state allows 25.

Tuition Demographics

Mike McClurken thought my tuition-related demographics tables were so terrible that he was moved to make his own, which he kindly sent me.  Dr. McClurken has done his usual incredibly detailed and thorough job, which I am honored to present here.   If you haven't already, please check out Mike's website, including the latest edition of The ORCSD By The Numbers, which is essential reading for all those interested in our district's performance and finances.  I want to thank to Mike McClurken for another great contribution to the district.

Here's the link to the Google spreadsheet, which actually works much better than the embedded spreadsheet here:

Again, I don't think the embedded spreadsheet above works very well, so if you're going to spend any time looking at the numbers you're probably better off clicking here and then exploring the tabs at the top.

I largely left alone what Mike sent me except for some mangling I had to perform to convert to Google.  To point out what stood out me when I went through it, I'll include a few charts here in addition to all the ones Mike supplied.  What follows here is my own opinion, and not necessarily Mike McClurken's or anyone else's.

I was struck by the special education numbers:

The current tuition agreement has Barrington paying the full costs of special education services for Barrington students at Oyster River. When I look at these numbers I have to think that this was certainly the right way to go.  I would want something similar with Deerfield.

With Newmarket, the talk is more about a deal where they pay Oyster River's cost per student as tuition.  That price would include special education.   In other words, the taxpayers of Oyster River would be taking the risk, essentially making a bet on the cost of special education for Newmarket kids. We make money if the special education cost per Newmarket student comes in less than that per local student.  We lose money if they cost more per.  

I would prefer a tuition deal where Newmarket pays our full cost for general education and pays for the special education of their own students.  But if us taking on the risk is what it takes to get them to pay the full cost per student, I'd be hesitant but probably OK with it.  From the chart it looks like that bet, which would almost certainly be a big loser for us with Barrington and Deerfield, is 50/50 with Newmarket.  The possibility exists that Newmarket has a higher bar for special education than we do, which might lead to our taxpayers having to pay for the special education of tuition students given IEPs upon beginning ORHS.

I combined the population numbers into a single chart, then I zoomed in to ages 0-20 to see if I could get some insights into enrollment trends.

Nothing too deep to say here.  You can see the kids leaving for college from Barrington and Deerfield and moving in to ORCSD and Newmarket.  They seem to hang around Newmarket longer.  Perhaps some of these are young families, who even now are rearing future tuition students.

The baby boom peak seems to be getting relatively younger, around 50 here, which is pretty much the tail end of the actual boom (born 1960).  This is probably the effect of the younger folks dying less often.

Zoomed in, we can focus on enrollment.  An increasing line, like ORCSD here, is predictive of a decline in enrollment, as there are fewer younger kids to replace older kids.   Newmarket has more younger kids than older, so they should see a rising enrollment.  Combining with them should somewhat alleviate the total decline.  The Barrington and Deerfield lines look pretty flat to me so combining with them wouldn't have the same effect.  I hope someone is looking hard at the actual enrollment forecasts of the towns rather than just guessing from the census.

I've shown charts I'd consider favorable to the Newmarket option, so here are some favoring Deerfield:

Deerfield looks like it fits into the cooperative more comfortably than Barrington or Newmarket.  From this perspective Deerfield looks a lot like Lee, falling between Madbury and Durham in incomes as I've tried to indicate with the thin lines.

Why is mean (average) family income so much larger than median (middle) family income in most of the towns?  That's the telltale sign of high-income folks among us.  For example, if a family that makes $5 million a year moved into Madbury it would raise the town's mean income over $10,000 ($5,000,000/476 families) while raising the median income hardly at all.

The median is a robust statistic because it doesn't change much when an outlier is added to the data.   I feel better just thinking about the rich as outliers.

The poverty data I posted last time was especially misleading, due to the presence of UNH students.  Dr. McClurken uses a better data set which counts the fraction of families living below the poverty line.   Using families eliminates most but not all UNH students.

Dr. McClurken notes almost all of the Durham families in poverty are families of graduate students living in Forest Park.  If you could remove those families from the data, it's likely the Durham rate would be the same as or less than that of Lee and Madbury, and thus so would the rate for the district.

Of course the children of grad students need to be educated too.   As a former grad student, I'm glad I never had to support a family on my stipend of $1,000 per month.   But these children are presumably less likely to suffer the negative educational correlates of a low-income family, so it makes some sense to ask what the data would look like without the poor graduate student families.

The Free and Reduced-price Meals data should be largely unaffected by UNH students, and paint a similar picture:
That's plenty to think about for now.   Your reward for reading this far is this moment of nostalgia from the election of March 2011, a few months before I started paying attention of the goings-on in the district.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Football is "Premature"

The agenda for Wednesday's meeting is up and it includes the football committee report.   The committee is chaired by Principal Allen and Athletic Director Corey and includes Glen Miller, the ORYA representative who made the original proposal.

The recommendation from the committee chairs says "to start a high school football program is premature at this time."   It's likely that the board will go along with this recommendation and not vote to adopt football at Oyster River High School.

As you can see from the one slide I reproduced here, the issues remain the funding, the awful memorandum of understanding, the lack of available facilities and Title IX.  There was also a discrepancy in the number of students likely to participate, with the three surveys yielding 33, 16 and 60 respectively.

I don't want to write too much on this before the board meeting this Wednesday.  See you there.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fear and Loathing at the Tuition Forum

Last Thursday, Superintendent Morse held a forum on the tuition issue.  No one was injured.

Due to the importance of the issue to the entire community, ORCSD spent around $600 mailing invitations to every homeowner in the district. That's on top of the $3,500 we spent on the tuition survey.  Only about 100 people attended the forum, including 6 board members.

The survey, again presented by Dr. Andy Smith, showed 2/3 of the district in favor of tuitioning, but I'd estimate the audience was more like 2/3 against.  The meeting was recorded, so catch it on DCAT (cable channel 22) or just click on the play button above, at ORCSDVideo or Vimeo.

I've already gone on and on about tuitioning (see 1 2 3 4 ...) and I'm not going to repeat any of that here.  Instead, let's start with things I learned at the forum:
  • We vote.  As a tuition deal is expected to be a multi-year contract, it must be approved by the voters.  Dr. Morse didn't say, but I'll guess that it will be a warrant article on the ballot in March 2014.  The board seems to be trying to make their choice by this November.
  • The choice may be easy.  Newmarket has reportedly expressed a willingness to pay the full Oyster River cost per pupil for tuition.  That's probably a couple thousand more per student in tuition than we'd get from the other towns.  I want those kids. This is great news for the taxpayers of Oyster River. 
  • Deerfield deal isn't exclusive.   If we accept the bulk of Deerfield students, there would still be 5-10% of Deerfield public high school students who would not attend Oyster River.
  • Barrington would be grandfathered.  In the event the district went with a non-Barrington option, current Barrington students would be allowed to finish.  81 Barrington kids are expected next year, up from 63 currently.  How we would all fit was left unspecified.
  • 30% for taxpayers.  The economic details of tuitioning were left pretty vague, though "15-20 staff" are needed for the 290 students.  The superintendent dangled new programs (like free all day K) as possible uses for tuition revenue, but said he'd return at least 30% of tuition to the taxpayers.  (Special education tuition appears to be included in the calculation.)
  • The false "we're subsidizing" lives on.  One of the more common complaints from the audience is ORCSD taxpayers are subsidizing the other town when we charge them tuition lower than our cost per pupil.  I'll say it again: the tuition we get from a new student is lots more than it costs to add that student.  The difference lowers district taxes and enhances programming.  It's obviously not a subsidy if it saves the taxpayers money.  The most you can say is it's unfair, and even that goes away if another town actually pays our cost per pupil (see above).
  • Rumors are flying.  Apparently Barrington's building a high school and the Newmarket deal will never close, according to people willing to pass on rumors from the podium.
To me the ugliest parts of the meeting were the various insinuations from people at the podium that those people in those other towns aren't like us and their kids will wreck our school. Most of the speakers were not really presenting facts, but simply expressing their fears.  They're right to question the demographics and experience of the students in the other towns.  I try to get them some answers below.

Teacher Lou Mroz is fiercely protective
of ORHS and is vehemently against
tuitioning more students.
Click to watch
Mike McClurken had some.  He reported Newmarket ranked 12th and Oyster River 10th in the recent high school math NECAPs.  (Barrington and Deerfield don't have high schools so their high school NECAPs are not reported separately.)   

Lou Mroz, a long time ORHS teacher and district resident, made the most well-informed, passionate and credible case against tuitioning.  "Oyster River is special," he said and he counted the ways: safe, no fights, rare bullying, very accepting.  Mr. Mroz respectfully disagreed with the superintendent, saying in his and his colleagues' experience "a higher percentage" of Barrington students at ORHS "experience social and academic issues."   He claims "90% plus" of his students are against tuitioning students in.  He foresees a decline in property values if we do.  He actually said, "Raise my taxes."   You have to give him credit for putting his money where his mouth is.

I don't know if there is anything to these fears.   It's not like our neighboring towns are Chicago.  I want to believe those kids in the other towns are mostly good and that our staff is competent to handle the few bad apples in a way that preserves the great ORHS culture.

I put together some facts from  I'm not sure how helpful they are.  It seems the presence of UNH students in the data makes it hard to interpret.

I'm guessing most of the 41.5% of people in Durham living under the poverty line are UNH students.  A good chunk of the 11.4% in poverty in Newmarket are probably UNH students as well (note the low median age).  I didn't find 2012 NECAP rankings posted yet on the DOE site so I used School Digger rankings for middle schools (and I put Oyster River's rank under "Durham").

The second sheet (MSnecap8yrs) shows the full 8 year history for the middle school NECAP ranks in the towns.  What I call Middle School NECAPs is what School Digger computes from the 7th and 8th grade NECAP scores.  The 8 year averages turn out to be pretty close to the most recent year's outcomes, perhaps excepting Deerfield, whose recent rank is 50 but whose average rank is 60.

Here's all the demographic and test score info you can pull out of School Digger.  It includes free/reduced lunch percentages, which someone at the podium asked about.  The chart is slightly confusing because Deerfield doesn't really have a middle school -- it has a PK-8 school.  In the comparison, green is good, orange bad.
Click to enlarge

Here's a recent Concord Monitor article on high schools, declining enrollments and tuitioning.

My Doubts

At this point I'm still in favor of tuitioning and leaning toward Newmarket, especially if they are indeed willing to pay our cost per pupil.  However, thinking about the forum did raise some doubts in my mind:

LRPC Dec 2012 Enrollment Projections.
Anyone else notice some rows don't add up?
(Probably due to fractional kids, rounded for the table.)

First of all, while district enrollment is projected to decline pretty steadily, high school enrollment is forecasted to stay pretty constant.  In the status quo scenario (Barrington students only) high school enrollment is not projected to dip below its current level for eight years.  If things are fine now and there's no problem for a decade, why change?

I graphed the enrollment projections in a way that makes it easier to see that high school enrollment stays pretty steady for eight years (and actually grows for a while).  You can see the currently declining elementary enrollment work its way into the middle school starting FY17 and finally get to the high school at FY21.  I included the total enrollment on the same graph by using the axis on the right.  I added two lines not in the table above -- the red is the high school local district projection (no tuition students included) and the yellow is the implied projection of Barrington tuition student enrollment.  The yellow line wiggles a fair amount, which leads me to believe the LRPC must have done some Barrington modelling as well.

I wondered why this effect wasn't more apparent in the LRPC's report.  Their graph used a stacked area chart with high school on top, obscuring it's flatness.  I made one with high school on the bottom that's clearer.

My second doubt comes from the demographic and test score charts above.  There appears to be some validity to concerns about the Newmarket option being worse than the Deerfield option.   Newmarket's low middle school rank puts it on par with Barrington.  But the way choice works in Barrington means we tend to get better than average Barrington students.  We'd be taking all the Newmarket students.  [There's an option that's not been discussed publicly to my knowledge where we try to persuade Barrington to send us most their high school kids (the devil you know) but there's no particular reason to believe that that will go any better than taking all the Newmarket kids.]

Third, I'm not that happy with the budget as presented, vague as it is.  On the surface it seems pretty close to what I've been talking about: 15-20 staff for 290 tuition students.  The problem is that this staffing up is not really for 290 students, but only for about 210 students.  We shouldn't count the 81 or so Barrington kids that will already be here next year for which we weren't planning on hiring much in the way of staff (one or two .4 positions if I recall).   The two big plans end up with around 290 tuition students year after next, an increase of 209 from next year.  20 staff for 209 students seems like a lot.
 I will try to clarify this point and get back to you all.

Fourth, it's a bit more complicated if we go with Newmarket because of the plan to grandfather Barrington students.  We currently have 63 Barrington kids, and expect to have 81 next year.  I don't know the details, so I'll just guess.  11 Barrington kids will graduate next week, leaving 66, 22 per grade. That means we're getting 35 new Barrington kids next year [81-(63-15)] and most of them are probably freshman, say 26, with say 3 more in each of the older grades. So when the 290 Newmarket students show up and we stop accepting Barrington kids, we'll still have from Barrington 26 sophomores, 25 juniors and 25 seniors, 76 in total.  Add in the 600 district kids, that's 600+290+76=966, 51 more students than the 915 we can comfortably fit.  Bye bye, Barrington sophomores and juniors?

That about wraps it up for now.   The latest ORTV News has a great report on tuition students.  I saw on "The Places We'll Go" that two ORHS seniors are starting MIT next fall -- pretty great for a class of 160.  There's a school board meeting this Wednesday, June 5 that doesn't seem that exciting.  Football isn't mentioned so it will probably be presented on June 19.