We ran a dramatic cover in June with the words "We're Broke" over the captions of three school district administrators and the amount of shortfalls from their upcoming budgets.
The idea of the cover remains valid, but the headline was misleading. Many school districts across the nation are cutting programs, closing schools and firing teachers to stay within their budgets.
Yet, of the three districts we highlighted on the cover (Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Buffalo, N.Y.), only one-Portland-is actually receiving less money than its budget last year-actually .2 of 1 percent.
When we conceived our cover, I assumed all three districts were receiving less funding for the upcoming school year than they did for the past year. This isn't the case.
Portland's total school budget for the 2002-03 school year is $360 million, down $1 million from last year. Two years ago, in 2000-01, this district's budget was $366 million. But our cover said the district was "out $36 million." What this number represents is the projected shortfall of the upcoming year's budget. This means that without cuts, the district would run $36 million in the red.
The explanation is rather simple; costs go up every year, from teacher salaries to electricity to basic supplies, so the same amount of funding can lead to an operating deficit. Each district has to plan for these increases, of course, and that is how the budget process starts.
Buffalo provides a good example of this phenomenon. In the last two years, its budget was $483 million and $491 million. In 2002-03, its budget will be $501.6 million, an increase of nearly 2.2 percent. Yet our story revealed the district was "down $42 million." Now, while this figure doesn't represent a $42 million cut from the previous year's budget, it represents the projected shortfall. That is a real number. Buffalo has laid off 312 workers-185 of them teachers-and closed five schools to make sure it meets its new budget.
The operating deficits that we mentioned throughout our cover story are reported in many other outlets, including major newspapers and other magazines. But when we looked further into these numbers, we were somewhat surprised by what we found. While we strive to make each issue compelling and informative for educators, we have not, and will not, sacrifice our integrity to make a story seem more alluring than it is. If we did this with our June cover, we offer our apologies.