Monday, March 31, 2014

A Comparative Look at Per Pupil Expenditure

From the MERSD School Committee as Published in the Manchester Cricket:

As annual Town Meetings approach it is important that voters have information about the state of our schools and the cost of educating our children. We urge you to read the MERSD budget brochure and access the budget in detail on the MERSD Budget page.  Our reason for writing today, however, is to offer a cost comparison of high-performing schools and spending within our current fiscal reality.

A recent approach to school costs uses the lens of per capita spending to view expenditures in relation to other towns in the Commonwealth.  While per capita spending is relevant to the taxpayer, the per pupil expenditure metric published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education more directly measures spending efficiency and is regularly used as a point of comparison among school districts.

Cost per resident can confuse an analysis of spending efficiency because it includes factors over which MERSD has no control, such as the number of residents for every enrolled student.  In fact, a high percentage of residents do send their students to MERSD compared to neighboring communities, such as Hamilton and Wenham.  While this signals a vote of confidence in our schools, it does drive up cost per resident, even though MERSD’s spending per pupil is lower than its peers.

In 2013 Manchester Essex spent $14,317 per pupil, placing us below our neighboring Cape Ann communities: Rockport - $16,263, Hamilton Wenham - $15,057, and Gloucester - $14,504.  When compared to other similar high-performing districts in the state, Manchester Essex falls at the bottom of a list of several, among them Weston, Bedford, Lexington, and Harvard. The average per pupil cost of the 12 districts in this category is $16,600.  MERSD was the lowest and Weston the highest at $20,579. 

High Performing Districts
PPE 2013
*Based on 2013.  Current figures not available.

The MERSD per pupil cost was 14% lower than the high-performing districts and represents a 1.1% average spending growth over the past four years, compared to 2.4% per year for the same group. Our modest increase in 2013 is especially impressive when you consider the expansion of our student population of 24% (281 students) in the last seven years.   Overall, MERSD per pupil expenditure ranks 174th out of 326 school districts statewide.

From 2012 through 2014, the annual increase in MERSD’s assessment to the Towns has averaged only 1.97%.  Manchester’s share of MERSD’s costs has risen more quickly than that of Essex, based on the Regional Agreement funding formula, and an additional 198 Manchester residents attending district schools since 2007.  It is natural, therefore, for costs to increase when more services are being used.

Finally, in addition to enrollment, the budget has also been challenged by a large reduction in School Choice revenue once generating approximately $875,000 annually – now less than half that amount.  Adding in the $50,000 funding of the District’s unfunded liabilities this year, with a strategic plan to close the gap, we have significant pressures to balance the cost of educating our children.

Most important: what is the return on investment? We are proud to say the schools remain strong and poised to continue moving forward in a positive direction with your understanding and support.  Here are some statistics that have distinguished our schools this year:  

  • Boston Business Journal ranked MERSD 25th on its list of the Top Performing School Districts of 2013. 
  • MERSD has been recognized as a Spotlight District by the Boston Museum of Science two years in a row for its innovation in elementary STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
  • Ten high school students have been selected to present abstracts at the regional Junior Science Symposium, held annually at the University of New Hampshire.
  • 56% of our upperclassmen took 261 AP examinations with 92% earning scores qualifying them for college credit.
  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized MERSD as a Community Innovation Challenge Grant spotlight district for dyslexia programming which yielded a $685,000 cost savings to taxpayers.
  • MERMHS was one of only four schools in Massachusetts to receive the US Department of Education Green Ribbon Award.
  • MERMHS has won three state championships this year:  Girls Tennis, Sailing, and Girls Cross Country. 
  • Debate, DECA, Journalism, Art, Drama, and Music programs are annual award winners, locally and nationally.
  • Our elementary schools were recognized by the U. S. Department of Agriculture with the bronze medal in the HealthierUS school challenge.

Thank you for your time and consideration of these facts that impact not only the future of our children but also the overall fiscal well being of all residents and taxpayers. 

MERSD School Committee