Thursday, October 28, 2004

A tale of two school districts: Part One

As you may note from my biographical information, I'm on sabbatical for the 2004-05 academic year at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. Part of the logistical complexity of relocating was taking care of my daughters' schooling. Rather than go into all of the details, I thought I'd do a (probably inadequate) comparison of the two public school districts involved --- the one outside of Seattle we came from and the one here in Gainesville. I'm dividing this article into two parts: the first presents statistical and financial information and the second outlines my family's subjective experiences.

The Communities

Our "home" school district is the Northshore School District, located in the Seattle suburban cities of Bothell, Kenmore, and Woodinville (just across Lake Washington from Seattle), with a total population of around 60,000, according to my sum of the profiles from the 2000 census. Including unincorporated areas, the total population is around 112,000, according to the District's web site. These cities could probably be described as "moderately well off suburbs", with a mixture of housing ranging from trailer parks to $500,000 dollar or more homes. This is in contrast to the more wealthy suburbs of Bellevue, Medina, Mercer Island, etc., with ample $1 million plus homes (and their own school districts).

Our adopted school district is Alachua County. This includes all of Gainesville (a city of around 100,000), plus surrounding suburbs (for a total county population of around 215,000).

The Northshore area is significantly more well-off than Alachua county. Comparing the abovementioned census data with information from the city of Gainesville, Alachua county had a 2000 median household income of $27,600, while Bothell, Kenmore, and Woodinville had median household incomes of $59,264, $61,756, and $68,114, respectively. The statewide comparisons are not quite so dramatic, with Florida 2002 median household income of $38,934 and Washington 2002 median household income of $46,863, according to the US Census (as an aside, that Census web page clearly shows the inflation-adjusted decrease in median US incomes over the 2000-2002 time period).

The Districts

Alachua county is a larger school district, with 28,492 students to Northshore's 19,300 (both numbers for the 2001-02 school year). Alachua county's 2003-04 school general fund budget was around $162 million (approximately $5700/student), while Northshore's was $150 million (about $7800/student). In both cases, about 2/3 came from the state, so this is not merely the result of different local household incomes. Note that, while the Florida median household income is 83% of Washington state's, Alachua county schools are funded at 73% of Northshore's. Some of this (the difference between 73% and 83%, not between 73% and 100%) might be accounted for by lower cost of living in Florida (though our experience is that much of that is reflected in the cost of real estate, rather than day-to-day expenses, which would impact schools' capital budgets, not general funds).

I could spend an enormous amount of time going over similar comparisons, but I believe I've made my point. The factual information shows the very clear financial differences between the two areas and school districts. However, all of this is merely meant as context; my real purpose here is to discuss my family's subjective experiences. I'll do that in my next article.

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