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"My Turn" opinion piece published 04/09/2011 in the Scottsdale Republic

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Click HERE for the text of the original article on which I am commenting


How much we spend is secondary to what kids learn

In "Scottsdale district pumps funding into classrooms" (Scottsdale Republic, Saturday, April 2, 2011), we learn how much money is being spent on classrooms, how much money is being spent on administration, and how much money is being spent on food services; we also learn how these numbers compare to last year, to peer districts, to Arizona averages, and to national averages.

As a taxpayer, I certainly do care how many of my tax dollars are being spent on our schools. But that amount is meaningless without a measure of what we are getting for those dollars.

Nowhere in the article do we learn the effectiveness of the money spent by SUSD. Nowhere are we told whether or how much our students are improving year-over-year. Nowhere do we learn how our Scottsdale students compare to others in percentage performing at grade level. Nowhere is it reported how our students compare to others in standardized scores for math, for science, for English.

The recent documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" stresses that education is supposed to be about the students - not the adults. That movie also points out that (like spending on health care), our country spends more per student than most other developed countries, yet underperforms those other countries by nearly all objective measures, including average scores on standardized tests, percentage of students performing at grade level, etc.

The most meaningful measurement of the effectiveness of our education system is NOT how much we spend - it is how our students perform compared to others.

Obviously we want to get the most from our education tax dollars. But spending on education is, as they say, "necessary, but not sufficient."

Taxpayers continue to be adamant in knowing how much is being spent on education; we should be as adamant in demanding to know how well our students are learning. Otherwise, it's equivalent to saying "I spent $500 more (or less) on gasoline this year than last year." How can I know if that's good or bad without knowing how many miles I drove each year?

Until we are effective with our education system (as measured by student performance), worrying about efficiency (as measured by spending) is irrelevant.

Are we spending too much on education? The right amount? Not enough? How can we know if we don't measure and report the progress of our students?

Let's not ever report education spending numbers again without also reporting what we are getting for those dollars.








Original article to which I am responding.  This original article appeared 4/2/11 in the Scottsdale Republic:


Scottsdale schools pump more funding into classroom instruction

by Mary Beth Faller - The Arizona Republic


The Scottsdale Unified School District spent a larger percentage of its dollars in the classroom in fiscal year 2010, compared with 2009, although its overall budget pie was smaller.

A report on school spending released by the state auditor general recently found that Scottsdale spent 59.5 percent of its budget in the classroom, compared with 57.7 percent the year before. That's higher than the 2010 statewide average of 55.9 percent, which was a record low. The 2010 national average was 60.8 percent.

But Scottsdale had less money to spend on its 25,500 students - $8,012 per student last year, compared with $8,269 in 2009. The report compares fiscal years, which run from July 1 through June 30. The 2010 figures cover the period from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010. The 2009 figures cover the same period in 2008-09.

The district's administrative costs also declined to $664 per student from $682 - also below the state average of $721 per student.

David Peterson, assistant superintendent for business services, said the district has worked to become more efficient as funding from the state has shrunk.

"An awareness of the expenditures themselves was part of it, and also we've been working hard to minimize any cuts that were affecting the classroom," he said. "We've done everything we can to keep cuts away from the classroom and it shows."

The auditor general's report breaks down spending within the district and compares comparably sized districts in Arizona and, in some cases, with a statewide and nationwide average.

"The report is a pretty good snapshot for Arizona," Peterson said. "It's tough to compare across the country because every state does everything differently."

With 31 schools, Scottsdale is ranked as a "very large" district, along with Chandler, Gilbert, Deer Valley, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Mesa, Dysart, Phoenix Union and Tucson.

From 2009 to 2010, Scottsdale decreased its spending on student support (counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists and nurses) and instruction support (librarians, curriculum specialists and teacher training) to closely match those "peer districts." Student-support spending fell to $549 in 2010 from $651 per student in 2009. Instruction support decreased to $350 in 2010 from $517 per student in 2009.

Scottsdale's spending on food services - $2.52 per meal - increased 7 cents from 2009 to 2010 and was higher than the peer district and state averages.

Peterson said that's because the district is making its school meals healthier.

"We're trying to do more with fresh vegetables, and those are more expensive, obviously," he said. "We're trying to be healthy, and it does cost more money to do that."

Also, climbing fuel costs caused the district's transportation costs to increase to $3.64 last year from $3.39 per mile in 2009.

Skyrocketing gasoline costs in the last few months are a concern, Peterson said, and the costs are now starting to surpass what the district has budgeted.

"No one saw that coming. We're trying to buy as much in bulk as we can and store it," he said.


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