The Extravagent Expenditure of the London School Board
London School Board
SHOWING HOW A QUARTER OF A MILLION OF MONEY
HAS BEEN THROWN AWAY.
PUBLISHED BY EFFINGHAM WILSON, 11, ROYAL EXCHANGE.
SCHOOL BOARD FOR LONDON.
A careful review of the principal items of expenditure of the School Board for London, cannot fail to be of service to the Electors, to whom is entrusted for the third time the election of a new Board, more particularly in view of the strong impression now prevalent, that the educational results have, up to the present time, been obtained with an unnecessary expenditure.
The object of these pages will be to show that, thus far there has not been exercised that due economy which the interest of the ratepayers demand, and that the progressive rate of increase calls, in many instances, for very careful analysis, and a determination on the part of the Electors, that the new Board shall comprise representatives who with every consideration for educational efficiency, will regard the interests of the ratepayers as of considerably more importance than their predecessors have done.
There can be no doubt whatever that, with the exceptional advantages at its command, the London School Board should be able to conduct its operations in a more economical manner than similar institutions on a smaller scale; but it is to be feared we shall find that the reverse is the case, and that, from a disregard of the essential principles of economy, the Board has already committed the ratepayers to an enormous, and to a great extent, an unnecessary outlay, and that unless urgent steps are taken at the present juncture to prevent it, a new Board, composed of men on the old principles, will still further continue to cause increased taxation.
In looking through the published accounts of the Board we find the following items of expenditure as requiring our earnest attention, viz.:—
- The cost of school buildings.
- The amount of professional costs in connection with the purchase of sites.
- The general charges for legal expenses.
- The amount of salaries paid to teachers, and
- The general office expenses of the staff.
We shall find that not only are these items extravagant in themselves, but that there has been a progressive increase in each out of all proportion to the increase of the work in the several departments.
The following figures have been collected from the published accounts of the Board for each half-year. The details will be found in the Appendix.
The first and most important item will be found to consist of the cost of erecting the permanent schools of the Board. No account has been taken of the expenditure for acquiring sites, as it is difficult, without an acquaintance with the requirements of each case, to form any judgment as to whether the purchase has been economical or not. But for all practical purposes the cost of building in the several districts of London is the same, and it is a simple matter to form a comparison between the cost of building Board Schools and Voluntary Schools. And further it will be useful to compare the cost of the Board's later Schools with that of those erected in the earlier stages of its career, by which we shall find that the cost per head, expensive as it was at the outset, has been and is still increasing at a most extraordinary rate, until we are now brought face to face with the question "where will it stop?" It should also be borne in mind when instituting a comparison between the cost of Board Schools and Voluntary Schools that their educational results are generally speaking equal. It will be as well at the outset to explain that the cost of building a school, as considered here, does not include the expenditure for fittings, nor the cost of the site.
The earlier Board Schools were erected from the designs of Architects holding no permanent official position in connection with the Board; all the subsequent ones having been designed by the Architect of the Board permanently appointed. As it was claimed by the Chairman of the Board that this late arrangement effected a saving of some £2000 a-year, we may as well separate the earlier schools from the later ones, and see which, were the most economical, it being fairly assumed that for the purpose of efficient education they are equal. In arriving at the following figures, the cost of each school designed by what I may call the "outside Architects," includes the Architects' commission and other expenses of superintendence, whilst the remaining Board Schools having been designed by an officer of the Board are not charged with any commission. In the case of those Board Schools for which Tenders have been accepted, but which are not yet completed, an addition of 10 per cent, has been made to the amount of the Tender, to represent the probable value of the extras and the cost of superintendence (clerks of works, &c.) A margin of this per centage for extras is allowed by the Board upon all contracts, and this amount is generally expended, and, indeed, frequently exceeded.
It must be added that no notice has been taken of Schools which have been adapted or enlarged, as these generally result in higher figures and are otherwise misleading.
It is difficult to obtain detailed information as to the cost of building Voluntary Schools, but it is generally known among architects and others acquainted with such matters, that the total cost, including superintendence, averaged considerably under £7 per child—indeed this was considered a high figure. From a list, however, of the Schools erected under the auspices of the National School Society, for the past four years, we find that the average has been £6 per child. To take now the London School Board Schools, we find that those designed by "outside Architects " provide accommodation for 26,358 children, at a cost of £209,245, or £7 18s. 9d. per child, and that the Schools erected from the Designs of the Board Architect have, up to the present time, provided for 98,182 children, at a cost of £1,010,320, or £10 5s. 10d. per child.
These figures speak for themselves. Not only is the cost of building the Board Schools some 46 per cent, above that of Voluntary Schools, but the School Board itself, at the earlier stages of its career has erected Schools, of the efficiency of which no question is made, at a cost compared to which its later Schools are some 29 per cent, more expensive. This simply means in plain English, that if the School Board had even only continued to erect Schools upon the same principle as that upon which they began, they would up to the present time have saved to the ratepayers an expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million of money.
It should also be borne in mind that these earlier Board Schools were built in the years 1872 and 1873, a period when the building trade was at its highest point of prosperity, and when building materials were abnormally high.
But there is yet another view of these figures. Not only has the cost of building schools been unnecessarily high, not only are the Board Schools, as regards cost, largely in excess of the Voluntary Schools, but the cost of the Board Schools is still increasing—it increases half-year after half-year, and tenders for Schools, which will ultimately cost £12 and £13 per child, are now accepted without comment. It is a great step from £7 to £13 per head, and the question naturally arises, "Is this rate of increase to continue?" A large number of Schools have yet to be built, and any practical man would at once scout the impossibility of building efficient schools for less than £13 per child. It is a question for the ratepayers now to decide whether the old régime shall continue, or whether some attempt shall be made to curb this extravagant expenditure. This subject is of the greatest importance, for whereas other items can be remedied year by year, the cost of building these Schools is spread over a long term, and when once incurred, commits the ratepayers to an annual expenditure for fifty years.
As previously stated, it is not intended to discuss the cost of the several School sites, but reference cannot possibly be withheld from the extraordinary amount of the legal and surveyors charges connected therewith. The first published accounts in which this item is specially distinguished, are for Lady-day, 1874, when it amounts to £10,502, for acquiring land of the value of £55,749. This proportion would appear sufficiently extravagant and unreasonable, but the subsequent amounts show it to be gradually increasing, until it becomes in Lady-day, 1876, £20,445, for the purchase of land to the value of £82,718, or nearly 25 per cent. Land in London is generally dear enough in all conscience, but surely from these figures, the expenses in acquiring it must be dearer still.
No item of the London School Board points to a more vivid picture of thoughtless extravagance, marking out the system under which this department has been conducted as radically wrong. A public body which can sanction such a gross waste of the ratepayers' money, stands convicted of being ignorant of the most elementary principles of business.
If the Metropolitan Board of Works, with its heavy Parliamentary Work had proceeded in the same way, the ratepayers would soon have raised a protest against such an outlay, but the fact is, this last-mentioned Board has made its legal work a part of its own staff, with the result of much greater economy than could be obtained by giving the work to an outside firm of solicitors, and paying them the usual fees upon each of the innumerable items. It should also be borne in mind that this item, as with the previous ones, shows an increase out of all proportion to the work done.
The general item for legal expenses appears in the accounts independently of those incurred in connection with the purchase of sites, but suggests the same comments, as do also the legal charges connected with the enforcement of the compulsory bye-laws. What is urgently required is, that the School Board should establish a department of solicitors and pay them by salary, an arrangement which would effect a saving of at least £10,000 a-year. Such an arrangement would have been made at the outset by any Board having due regard to economy.
The relative value of the amount paid in Teachers' Salaries is best estimated by comparing it with the number of children in average attendance, and such a comparison is eminently favourable to the School Board, inasmuch, as the average attendance is continually improving. The first accounts in which this comparison can be made are for Michaelmas, 1874. In these we find that £43,379 was paid as Teachers' Salaries for the half-year upon an average attendance of 66,187 children, representing a cost of 13s. 1d. per child. For Lady-day, 1875, £59,120 was paid for 76,941 children, or 15s. 4d. per child; for Michaelmas, 1875, £76,516 was paid for 90,747 children, or 16s. 10d. per child, and for Lady-day, 1876 (the last published account), the amount reached £82,974 for 98,146 children, or 16s. 11d. per child. No fairer standard than this can be chosen, and yet we find that there is an increase in one year and-a-half of nearly 30 per cent, in the cost of teaching for each child in average attendance. Such an increase means of course nothing more or less than a general advancement of the salaries, a quite unneccessary step (to this extent at least) when we bear in mind that the demand for this class of Teachers exists only on the part of Board and Voluntary Schools, and that the prestige attached to the former would be sufficient inducement for efficient Teachers to engage themselves therewith. There is, no doubt, just at present a dearth of good Teachers, rendered inevitable by the general establishment of School Boards, but it is a want which presses equally upon the Board Schools and upon Voluntary Schools, and any disposition on the part of the former to seek, by offering higher salaries to draw the Teachers from the latter schools, would be inconsistent with the spirit of the Education Act of 1870. In this item, as in the previous ones, it is important to observe that these charges are increasing every half-year, out of all proportion to the increase in the amount of work done, and if not speedily checked will continue to increase at the same rate.
The last item with which we propose to deal is that of the Salaries of the Officers of the Staff. A just criterion of the economical or extravagant tendencies of a public body will always be afforded by a review of the cost of administration by the staff of the central office. Any disposition to jealously guard the interests of the ratepayers would be displayed in a rigid economy in the Salaries of the Officers. The School Board for London, so far from exercising any economy in this respect, has reared up a huge pile of officialism absolutely out of all proportion to the labor involved by the Board's duties, and with a general system of increase of salaries, which a reference to the several minutes of the Board's transactions will show to be quite unprecedented.
For the purpose of comparison we have commenced with the accounts for the half-year ending Lady-day, 1874, as by that time the work of the Board would have reached its average dimensions. It must be borne in mind that these figures relate solely to the staff, and do not include the expenses connected with the enforcement of the compulsory bye-laws with which we cannot deal just now. For the half-year ending Lady-day,, we find that the salaries of the officers of the staff amounted to £2715, for the next half-year the amount is £4815; for Lady-day, 1875, £4850; for Michaelmas, 1875, £5252, and for the half-year ending Lady-day, 1876, £5653. Thus we find that within a period of two years, the salaries of the staff have more than doubled in amount, the work to be done remaining generally the same. That for the merely administrative purposes of the central office of the London School Board it should have been necessary to incur an expenditure in salaries of nearly £12,000 per annum, with a moral certainty of this being again exceeded, is a fact which certainly never occurred to those who, in the just and true interests of Public Elementary Education, approved of and applauded the Act of 1870.
The foregoing statements of facts and figures, gleaned from the accounts of the School Board for London, have been put together with a view to show that there is room for far greater economy than it has hitherto displayed; that in the interests of the Metropolitan ratepayers, no less than of the cause of Elementary Education, a protest and a stand should be made against the present system of expenditure—a system which, if carried further on to its extreme, would cause the name of School Boards to be a bye-word and reproach. There is no desire by partial statements or unfair criticisms to hinder the work of Education so ably inaugurated by the Act of 1870. But this Act was essentially a compromise between those who, while holding very divergent views, were equally desirous for the general interests of Elementary Education, and one general understanding, which more than any other influenced the mutual agreement, was the representation of the responsible Minister of the Crown, that the Act would not entail a rate exceeding threepence in the £.
Now, what do we find has resulted.
The London School Board, owing its very existence to this Act, has already, by its extravagant expenditure, raised the rate to about fivepence in the £, and as much more work remains to be done, and as the rate of increase still appears to be progressive, there is every reason to believe that this rate will be considerably exceeded in the future. The figures relating to the building of Schools show most conclusively that no less than a quarter of a million of money has already been unnecessarily expended. It becomes almost superfluous to compare the Board's with that of other bodies; a reference to the contents of these pages must convince all that, even judged by the standard of its own earlier work, it has developed more recently an extravagance which must at once be curbed. This duty now devolves upon the rate-payers, and the time and occasion have now arrived when they have the power, if they will only exert it, of returning representatives, who, while energetically working in the cause of Elementary Education, will bear in mind the pecuniary interests of those who have entrusted them with so high an office.
Note.—The cost of erecting the Schools designed by "outside Architects" has been taken from the Board Accounts of completed Schools next following the opening of each School, and does not include the cost of any additions made subsequently by the Board, as it is assumed, that when opened, these Schools were fully adapted for their respective purposes.
For Appendix see next page.
Schools erected for the School Board for London from Designs by "Outside Architects."
(Cost of each School, exclusive of the Site and of the Fittings).
|Number of Children.||Cost.|
|Old Castle-street, Whitechapel||1,272||9,190|
|St. Paul's-road, Bow-common||1,203||9,054|
|Harper-street, New Kent-road||1,164||8,052|
Or equal to £7 18s. 9d. per Child.
(Exclusive of the Site and of Fittings).
|Number of Children.||Cost.|
|St. John's-lane, Clerkenwell||818||6,625|
|Barnet-street, Bethnal Green||748||5,736|
|New North-street, Shoreditch||580||6,759|
|Gipsy-hill-road, Upper Norwood||493||7,836|
|Camden-street, St. Pancras||1,092||11,227|
|Great College- street||800||7,166|
|Mansfield-place, Kentish Town||1,129||10,508|
|Old Ford, Atley-road||1,269||12,729|
(Taken at the amount of the accepted Tenders with 10 per Cent, added thereto for extras and cost of superintendence).
|Queen' s-park Estate||828||9,735|
|Lower Park-road, Peckham||552||6,165|
|Total for completed and uncompleted Schools||98,182||£1,010,320|
Or equal to £10 5s. 10d. per child.
Page 10, line 10 from top of page, for " 1876," read " 1874."
- See Appendix.