Which Central Mass School Districts Spend the Most Per Pupil?
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Utilizing data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, GoLocal ranked each school district in Central Massachusetts to see which were spending the most money per pupil.
Of the 43 school districts in Central Massachusetts, a total of nine had higher per pupil averages than the state level, with the rest being rated below average.
The difference between the highest spending school district spending per pupil and the lowest school district spending per pupil is more than $7,000, which is a significant gap. School districts credit how much money they have in their budget to a variety of reasons including grants, state allocations, and town contributions.
“Town contributions play a role; Towns with more money will have the potential to provide their schools with more funding,” said Nancy Spitulnik, superintendant of the Northbridge School District. “We really work hard with all of our resources to provide students with the best education possible. We have good teachers and good administration. Lack of funding just means that we have to work a little harder.”
Vocational Technical Schools
Technical school districts as a whole throughout Central Massachusetts boasted the highest total expenditure per pupil ratings than public school districts, taking the top three spots on GoLocal’s list of per pupil spending in the year 2012.
While at first these figures seem impressive – with all three technical school districts ranking more than $3,000 above the state average – it should be noted that technical schools are assessed differently from public school districts, allowing more funding.
“A K-12 traditional school would not be the same as a technical high school,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, superintendant of the Blackstone Valley Regional Technical School District. “As long as the vocational school meets the higher standards that the State of Massachusetts set forth, the cost per pupil could be twice as high as a traditional school.”
Fitzpatrick notes that the state is constantly checking in with vocational schools and their facilities to make sure that they are both current and in proper working order.
And while public schools may disagree with vocational schools receiving additional funding, Fitzpatrick says that public and vocational schools should be trying to work on partnerships, rather than competition.
“I would prefer to look at traditional schools as a partner rather than competition,” said Fitzpatrick. “I believe that there are opportunities to integrate vocational and traditional schools; if we work together then I believe that we can do great things.”
Using Limited Resources
While many school districts throughout Central Massachusetts have close to average or above average expenditures per pupil to work with, other school districts in the area rank far below average.
Out of 43 school districts, 11 are more than $2,000 lower than the state average per pupil. Of those 11, four of the school districts are more than $3,000 less than the state average.
The Dudley-Charlton School District is one of those four school districts. With only $10,624 per pupil to spend - ranked fourth lowest in Central Massachusetts - the school district admits that funding isn’t always easy.
“We have ranked toward the bottom of the state consistently for the past 25 years now,” said William Prifone, the finance director for the Dudley-Charlton School District. “Our district has a strong reliance on state funding, which has only increased by a small amount. Our town is also one of the many throughout Massachusetts that is strapped financially.”
Although Dudley-Charlton lacks the funding per pupil that other schools may have, the school district continues to make the best of the situation. What is lost in budget cuts and lack of funds, the school makes up with a “great work ethic,” according to Prifone.
“We run a thin staff,” said Prifone. “With that being said, our district has a great work ethic. But even with that attitude, we do face disadvantages. We are not able to integrate as much technology into the classroom as we would like. We try to save money on all items not in the classroom.”
And although Dudley-Charlton lacks the per pupil funding that other schools may possess, their allocation of funds has been paying off. Out of the 43 districts in Central Massachusetts, Dudley-Charlton ranked 16th in graduation rates for the year 2012 with a graduation rate of 91.3-percent.
“Our school district has excellent graduation rates,” said Prifone. "We have a lot of support systems in place for our students. There are different ways to look at the numbers, but I know we have good numbers.”
Is Average Enough?
The Worcester School District, whose $13,489 per pupil expenditures is only $147 dollars lower than the state average, is still forced with potential budget cuts for the upcoming school year.
“Right now, we would need just under $12 million to maintain what we did last year,” said John Monfredo, a member of the Worcester School Committee. “Our superintendant is calling for a budget closer to $27 million, but we need $12 million. Right now we don’t have an educationally sound budget.”
Monfredo says that the lack of budgeting for school districts in Massachusetts can be attributed to the Education Reform Act of 1993 and the creation of the state’s foundation budget, which calculates each districts adequate baseline spending.
Monfredo cited a report called “Cutting Class: Underfunding the Foundation Budget's Core Education Program” completed by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center as a great explanation as to why the foundation budget model no longer works.
The report highlights that the foundation budget undervalues SPED and health insurance costs and has also not been readjusted for inflation which has caused education budgets to lag behind what they should really be. Monfredo calls for changes to the current model so that schools can have proper budgets because ultimately education and economy are directly linked.
“People don’t like to talk about the importance of education,” said Monfredo. “The public sees the yellow school buses driving around and they think that everything is okay. We all need to be concerned about education; it is the engine that will run our economy.”
Related Slideshow: Which Central MA School Districts Spend the Most Per Pupil?
Based on 2012 data from the Massachusetts Department of Education, these are the 25 Central MA school districts--ranked lowest to highest--that spend the most per pupil.
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