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Independent study names local district as one of state’s most efficient per-pupil spenders

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By Mallory Bilger

The Spencer County School District has recently been named one of the 10 most efficient per-pupil spenders based on ACT composite scores by independent think-tank the Bluegrass Institute, based in Bowling Green.
The report, released in September, is the institute’s 2012 Bang for the Buck: How Efficient are Kentucky’s Schools, and ranks Spencer County eighth of 169 districts with high schools. The findings are based on 2011 ACT scores and expenditures, and each district was assigned a Score-Spending Index. According to the report’s executive summary, written by Richard Innes, the report looks at the “ratio of educational performance per dollar spent,” and asserts that pouring additional taxpayer dollars into a district is not enough to equal a more successful district.
“ . . . more spending by itself does not create an efficient education system — just a more expensive one,” Innes wrote.
The Bluegrass Institute is not associated with the Kentucky Department of Education, and describes itself as “Kentucky’s free-market think tank, dedicated to arming Kentucky’s freedom fighters with the information they need to defend their individual liberties. Founded in 2003, the institute is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit educational organization.”
Superintendent Chuck Adams shared the news with board members at the September meeting and said he wished the results would have been available before the board took action to raise tax rates. The board moved to increase its revenue stream by 4 percent — the maximum allowable according to state statute — as compared to last year’s revenue.
“Any time that we are ranked eighth in the state, I do think that is something that all stake holders need to be aware of,” Adams told board members.
According to the report, the district’s average daily attendance was 2512.467 in 2011. The total per-pupil expenditure was $8,336 for the year, and that figure did not include on-behalf expenditures. Factors noted in the study include that 39 percent of Spencer County students were on free or reduced lunch in 2011, and the district’s average ACT composite score was 18.7. It is important to note that one limitation of the study is that a district could receive a positive Score-Spending Index designation, even if its ACT composite score was below state average. To account for that, the study identifies those districts with a composite score of at or above 18.5, and then identifies the scoring index for districts that have below-average ACT test scores.
The study notes the limitation in stating, “ . . . it is possible for a district to get a positive SSI even though its test scores are below state average. Although the SSI is positive in such cases, this clearly does not indicate a truly effective performance.”
Board member Sandy Clevenger noted that Spencer County’s district just barely made the cut to be included in those schools with at or above-average composite ACT scores.
“It is nice to see us at eight . . . when you look at it closely, though, our average ACT was 18.7,” she said. “The cutoff to be in the pink is 18.5. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. I think there was one other school district in that top . . . that had a lower ACT score than us. We need to keep our nose to the grindstone.”
Adams agreed, but said the designation was still a noteworthy and positive one for the district that implied hard work went into spending taxpayer dollars efficiently.
“I just wish they would have released this information before the tax hearing,” Adams wrote in his September superintendent’s report.
The 25-page report concluded that school districts need to have focused spending.
“Unfocused increases in education spending are unlikely to improve academic results for Kentucky’s children. Without improved efficiency, most of those extra dollars are likely to just be frittered away,” the report noted in its final thoughts.
To view the report in full, visit http://www.bipps.org and click on the Bang for the Buck under the site’s featured articles.