Reflections on the IB Program: The Financial Intersections of Apartments, Escalating Taxes and Student Growth Budget Impacts

Refusal of International Baccalaureate Organization to Provide Data Dramatically Changes USN&WR Rankings

Lack of IB Data May Reveal More Realistic Assessment of GMHS and Other Near By Schools

By John Leimone, Ph.D

Dr. Leimone served as an International Monetary Fund economist and is a long time resident of the City

We have recently learned that the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization has refused to provide the US News & World Report with individual school data in its most recent ranking of high schools in the US. As a result of the absence of these data in the metrics used to rank schools, George Mason High School has reportedly dropped by over ( 300 places (from 160th to 465th) in national rankings and from 4th to 13th in state rankings.

Over Weighting One Metric?

This dramatic fall indicates that the rankings that GMHS has been receiving in the past from US News and World Report must have been heavily weighted by IB participation. The IB Organization has taken the step to withhold information because it apparently believes that the information that it had previously been providing had been distorted by a number of factors in determining school ranking metrics. These factors include the failure to take into account the ratio of disadvantaged children in high schools scored (Falls Church City Schools have a very low ratio compared with surrounding jurisdictions, such as Arlington) as well as “missing information” which call into question the methodology and value of the IB metrics used in these rankings. The IB Organization’s rationale hints that some of its data may have been manipulated by individual schools. This issue has risen in the past in our own school system and raises serious questions about confidence in the information the FCPSS puts out, especially relating to budgetary issues.

As a result of this change in metrics, use of more conventional metrics of school performance shows that GMHS may not be the “world class” school some of our City leaders have been beating their breasts about. This is a serious issue in light of the persistent strain on the City’s finances posed by the FCPSS, and the resulting “crowding out” of nonschool expenditures, which has led to a persistent decline in nonschool expenditures per resident over recent years. This decline in nonschool resources per resident has, of course, been exacerbated by the rapid rise in total City population, fueled by the significant number of new mixed use development projects that have added dramatically to the number of housing units in the City, with more to come.

Questions Regarding IB Consideration by Colleges

Apart from the issue of ranking, what is wrong with having the IB program in GMHS (and trying to implement it in lower grades as well)? This writer’s own research suggests that few colleges and universities give any consideration to student IB participation in their admission policies. Instead, the program was founded to cater to internationally peripatetic families whose children attend self-styled international schools as my children did in Chile.

By providing a common type of curriculum to these students used by many international schools, the IB program at GMHS makes it very attractive to State Department and other peripatetic families who take our school subsidy for a few years and then move on. So we taxpayers have to bear the cost of (a) the implementation of the IB program in the school system itself (as far as I know, this cost has never been revealed notwithstanding citizens’ requests for this information) and (b) perhaps much more importantly, the cost of education of the significant number of students who live transiently in Oakdale Apartments, Pearson Square, & perhaps other housing units in the City.
Because apartment units generate so much less in real estate tax revenue per unit than other types of housing units, these transients (and other apartment dwellers) in effect receive a much larger school subsidy than do other taxpaying residents who have kids in the FCPSS and enlarge the burden on the majority of residents who do not have children in the school system.

Impact of All Apartments and Students in Transit

The impact of this phenomenon on the City’s budget is dramatic, given that multi-family units generate only 5 percent of the real estate tax in the City (2013 data from the Tax Assessor’s office) while accounting for the greatest share of student enrollment in recent years. In contrast, according to the FCPSS own numbers, single family homes have only accounted for around 22 percent of new student enrollment in recent years whereas tax information indicate that single family homes generate over 50 percent of real estate tax revenue.
In conclusion, these developments argue strongly for eliminating the IB program in Falls Church, especially in light of the increase in student enrollment, which is resulting in ballooning school operating costs. It is important to note that this growth in costs comes even before mentioning future operating and capital costs that would be associated with a much expanded new high school and an expansion of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

In addition, apart from the added costs imposed by the IB program outlined here, the lower tax take per apartment unit by itself argues that we don’t need more apartments in this city, especially those that put more pressure on the school facilities.

2 Comments on "Reflections on the IB Program: The Financial Intersections of Apartments, Escalating Taxes and Student Growth Budget Impacts"

  1. Alison Kutchma | May 23, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Reply

    I am feeling hopeful that under the leadership of a new Superintendent questions about cost and resource allocation will be thoughtfully answered. I continue to wait for a full cost accounting of both the IB and the Middle Years Program. Previous School Board Chairs have been unwilling to consider labor cost (teacher allocation) to staff this program. However, under the direction of Interim Superintendent Robert Schiller, GMHS Principal Matt Hills at long last, in response to questions, was asked to do some research into class sizes for the IB program. Class size information, that until Dr. Jones departure had been withheld, is available in an article on the FallsChurchFACTS website.

    I firmly believe the school board should consider not only the cost of a program before moving forward with its implementation, but the impact on education outcomes, other students and other programs. This consideration should include a look ahead as to cost to implement over projected growth and changing populations. The lack of these cost related questions continues to be my greatest concern. We must be able to assess annually how well manage our education dollars.

  2. Thank you John for your thoughtful article. The findings and conclusions raise other issues as well such what other programs are embedded in the School Division that are not yielding expected educational benefits. These programs compound yearly school budgets and show up as, part, of the School Division operating growth in expenditures.

    As will be shown in an upcoming Post article the expected enrollment increase over the next 15 years will lead to explosive increases in budget requirements. Since, according to the School Division, 80% of the budget is for teacher salaries the youngest students will be at the greatest risk of budget stress. Programs like IB should be removed. Going forward any reductions in Operating and capital expenses should begin now if we want to ensure a high quality education for our youngest students.

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