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Testing Assumptions and "Self-Think"

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

Are you familiar with the concept of "self-think"? It is really common in web design. Just because a certain layout makes sense to you, doesn't make it right for everyone. Just because I love pickles, doesn't mean they are everyones favorite food.

Self-think it also very common when it comes to opinions on how a town is run. The fact that I value a high-quality education and place value in our public school system doesn't equate to an entire community sharing this value. Year after year I have heard that North Haven has a more mature population and that we keep costs down because our population makeup and limited anecdotal evidence indicates that we should be as frugal as possible when it comes to funding schools because we already pay so much for the Board of Education Budget.

It is difficult to reconcile these viewpoints. I wanted to put my personal feelings aside and avoid engaging in self-think. This is where data can help. Data can't always identify the needle in the haystack, but it can often act as a leaf blower to narrow the search.

child thinking

I wanted to try to find a way to use data to support or bust the following assumptions:

Assumption 1 - North Haven is a more mature town, having a higher than average rate of folks outside the school system.

Assumption 2 - North Haven residents value education.

Assumption 3 - North Haven residents pay a ton of money for our children's education.

Ready to get nerdy?

Let's test the demographic makeup assumption first

"North Haven is a mature town". I looked at total school enrollment and the total town population. These are imperfect metrics. After all, some kids enrolled in schools participate in the Open Choice Program and live in another town. There are also kids from North Haven who go to private school. Though imperfect, this will give us a "thumb in the wind", directional idea of where we are going from an age of population perspective. .

Over the past 10 years, students as a % of total population has actually increased. We are now looking at 13.07% of our population being students (vs 10 years ago we had just 10% of the population enrolled). The average for our District Reference Group (our sister districts) is 12.7%. This is not a statistically significant shift from the DRG average, but it does indicate a shift in age demographics in North Haven. It seems now we are very slightly younger than average for our DRG. Look at North Haven, looking spry as heck right now.

Students enrolled in school as a percent of North Haven total population

Assumption 1 - North Haven is a more mature town, having a higher than average rate of folks outside the school system. -- BUSTED

Let's test assumption 2 - that North Haven residents value education

Each year in May, the voters of North Haven head to the polls to approve or vote down the proposed budget.

It is important to point out the specific language used on the ballots. Not because this language is particularly revolutionary, but because the language explicitly calls out how much funding the Board of Education will receive and an affirmative vote for the budget is an affirmative vote for both the Town Government and the Board of Education.

"Shall the town of North Haven, in accordance with the recommendation of the Board of Finance, approve and adopt a budget consisting of $XXXXX for the Town Government and $XXXXX for the Board of Education, for a total amount of $XXXXX for this fiscal year July 1, 20XX to June 30, 20XX?"

Eligible voters can respond "Yes" or "No". In 2022, 72.8% of voters cast their ballot in favor of the budget.

Let's go back to a year when there was a large increase, nearly 5%. In 2019 the budget was hotly contested because it represented such a large proportionate increase. 60.5% of voters were in favor of the budget that year. The New Haven Register ran an article with several quotes. One resident said, "'I’m completely happy with it,' she said. Everything the Board of Education asked for is in the budget, which was important." Over the course of that same article residents also expressed interest in holding costs down. Ultimately the passing of the budget each year indicates support, but an additional survey with qualitative data around why voters decided to pass or vote down a budget would be needed to provide context.

Assumption 2 - North Haven residents value education. -- UNCLEAR/LEANING TRUE

Now for the tricky one

North Haven residents pay a ton of money for our Board of Education to educate children. We pay nearly $20,000 per student and over $60,000,000 seems like so much money. Let's dig in to understand this.

I looked at BOE $ per resident and it is $2,489 vs a DRG average of $2,605. It's a difference of -$116/ resident, but I think that is meaningful in a town that watches finances carefully. I thought this might be due to the number of students compared to overall residents (NoHa has a reputation of being a mature town), but based on our students as a % of residents calculation that doesn't seem to be the case.

Average educational dollar budgeted per resident
Average educational dollar budgeted per resident

Another way to look at this is our Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE). The Per Pupil Expenditure is a state defined metric that is applied across all districts. It represents how much each district is spending to educate the average student. Because Boards of Education can’t independently bond for items like school renovations, (borrow money, like a mortgage) debt service and large bonded projects are not included for any district.

North Haven Per Pupil Expenditure
North Haven Per Pupil Expenditure

Per Pupil Expenditure Comparison
Per Pupil Expenditure Comparison

We rank 11 out of 24 for PPE (rank 1 being the lowest PPE). This means we spend less per student than most of our peers as well as spending less than the DRG average.

Assumption 2 - North Haven residents pay a ton of money for our children's education. -- True, but with context. $60 million is a ton of money, but without the context that it is less than the average of our peers it lacks the full picture.

In summary - I think it is safe to say that the Town of North Haven is experiencing a demographic shift and that many residents have supported education in the past.

I hope folks come out to provide public comment at the April 4th Public Hearing on the Budget. Folks can also provide public comment at Board of Finance and Board of Education meetings if there are specific questions on or issues with a proposed budget.

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