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School Board Spending Gets Public Airing

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Attention Richmond Public Schools, Jonathan Mallard has your number. More precisely, he has a lot of your numbers, and he's posting them on the Internet in a format that allows handy searching and cross-referencing for any resident so inclined.

Mallard, a candidate for School Board in the 4th District, has posted the information — based on this fiscal year's budget numbers as well as projected enrollment numbers provided by officials prior to the budget's approval — on his Web site, jonathanmallard.com/working-out-the-details.

He says he'll maintain the site and add to it with each consecutive budget whether he wins or loses the race. Style went to press Nov. 3, before Tuesday's election.

Mallard declines to draw any firm conclusions from the data, saying that “making a conclusion out of one year is not very … I think a statistician would call it not very significant.”

But on his site, Mallard poses a few significant questions based on his own data massaging: “Why are children not treated equally throughout the city?” and “Why are the districts not treated equally?”

He points to his own 4th district as an example, which he says ranks eighth lowest out of nine districts in terms of spending.

Mallard's site provides the data in an Excel spreadsheet format — which means a rudimentary understanding of computer spreadsheets is necessary — and encourages users to play with the numbers.

But wait, there's more! Mallard also has discovered some significant issues with the school system's payment of FICA taxes — the money withheld from workers' paychecks and sent to the federal government to support programs such as Social Security. The budget shows a shortfall in these payments potentially amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, he says.

Mallard also has posted other data that allows for some interesting number-crunching.

Take funding for American with Disabilities Act improvements, for example. “The question is, they had $1 million and [City] Council gave them another $5 million, and that's $6 million, but [schools administration] only is proposing to spend $3.69 million.”

He cites the school system's Web site, which provides a detailed project list with cost breakdowns, while also noting that many of the projects appear to be heavy in administrative costs, which represents about 29 percent of total spending, compared with the industry average of about 10 percent.

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