2018-09-13 / Front Page

Study rates schools on funds, tests

By Amy Hubbell Of The Enterprise staff

Spending more money per student doesn’t necessarily result in higher test scores.

That was one conclusion based on data released from the Michigan Department of Education (MDOE).

The report was discussed Monday by the Suttons Bay Board of Education. The district fared well, according to superintendent Mike Carmean.

He presented board members with a list of four figures — ranging from $11,331 to $24,855 — and a second column of numbers ranging from 971.8 to 1,078.

What do the columns mean?

“It means we’re getting the job done,” he said.

Suttons Bay spent $11,938 per pupil in 2016- 17, which is $1,729 higher than the state average of $10,209. Suttons Bay juniors who in the spring took the SAT as part of the state-mandated M-STEP came in the with second highest average score among four public school districts in the county at 1,032.2.

That’s well above the statewide average of 1,000.1.

The outcome serves as a ray of sunshine for a district that has weathered multiple financial setbacks in recent years.

Superintendents at other county schools say there’s more to the story.

Northport Public School, which spends the sixth highest amount per pupil among Michigan’s 587 school districts, spent $24,855 per student in 2016-17. Current seniors who took the SAT as juniors had an average score of 971.8.

“Looking at a single data point, such as one year’s per-pupil spending compared to the composite SAT score, does not give an accurate picture, for better or worse,” Northport superintendent Neil Wetherbee said.

Per pupil spending and instructional dollars spent per student are not the same thing.

Wetherbee said there are significant fixed costs to running a building or district of any size. For example, it costs roughly the same to heat a building with 150 students as a building with 1,000 students.

Comparing “instructional” expenses to standardized test scores provides a more accurate picture of what’s going on, he said.

“If we look at the previous year’s data and used the instructional dollar per student number, Northport had a SAT composite of 1,047 at a cost of $13,265,” he said.

Wetherbee suggested there’s a stronger correlation between the percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches and standardized test scores.

Last year, Northport’s free-reduced lunch rate was 70.3 percent, among the highest in the region behind only Mancelona, Alba and Forest Area.

Glen Lake had the second highest spending among county schools at $17,418 with the third highest SAT average at 1,025.8.

Superintendent Sander Scott said he believes his district’s spending appears higher relative to other districts partially because Glen Lake uses general fund money for capital improvements. Still, his board members continue to look for improvement in standardized test scores.

“We recognize that we need to do better at Glen Lake in terms of ‘learning return on investment,’” Scott said.

Spending vs. scores has been a persistent topic of conversation among Glen Lake Board of Eduction members, specifically over the past two years.

“Given our per pupil expenditures, why aren’t our students achieving better,” he asked. “Answering that question is difficult, but one we’re hoping to address through our 3-Year Strategic Planning and School Improvement process.”

Leland Public School had the highest SAT average of 1,078.8 and spent the least per student in the county at $11,331.

“Our instructional staff and high school counselor have made deliberate efforts to prepare our students for the SAT, as it is gate keeper for higher education,” Leland superintendent Jason Stowe said. “I think our scores are directly linked to how our entire staff prepares our students to become critical thinkers.”

Statewide four of the five highest school districts per pupil spending are in the Upper Peninsula. Wells Township, near Marquette, had an operating budget of $386,963 — $64,494 per student — tops in the state.

The only Lower Peninsula school in the top five was Beaver Island School in Charlevoix County, which spent $43,287 for 49 students.

Return to top