The Upper St. Clair School District Annual Report landed in my mailbox this weekend. If you took the time to read through it, perhaps you noticed the same things I did. As found in any annual report, there is a lot of self-congratulatory public relations information alongside the more important facts and figures. I focused my attention on the facts and figures. And there are a few things that raise critical questions.
The “Goals of the Board of School Directors,” on page 3, is lacking in two very important areas.
1. None of the goals directly focus on maintaining or improving student performance.
2. None of the goals are concerned with efficiency or maximizing the value of our tax dollars.
As a resident and taxpayer, I want my school district to provide the best education possible for my tax dollars. Without goals clearly directed at measuring and improving student performance and doing it as efficiently as possible, I have wonder what the school board sees as its purpose in life?
Setting goals in these areas would be simple. PSSA or SAT and ACT scores are perfectly good measures of student performance. All the school board needs to do is to set target scores and build programs to reach those targets. The annual report also contains excellent information that could be used to set goals for efficiency. The cost per student and tax mileage rate are good financial measures. Set a target tax rate (preferable lower than it currently is) and a goal for the cost per student and work toward those goals.
Now the last measure, the cost per student, requires close examination prior to setting goals. On this point, the annual report is inconsistent. And I am very suspicious of this inconsistency.
On page 6 of the report, the cost per student is stated as $13,085.93 per student. However, if you take the total expenditure of $59,395,594 as stated on page 6 and divide it by the total of the student population as stated on page 1 of 3933 students you will arrive at $15,101.85. That $2,000 per student difference means we are either missing about 600 students or almost $8 million. So which is it and why such a big difference?
Another red flag can be found in the “Budget Analysis” on page 6. If you look closely you will notice that 12.68% (over $7.8 million) of the approved budget in “Miscellaneous” or “Other” expenses. Again, I am very suspicious of “miscellaneous” or “other” line items if they account for anything more than a couple percentage points. This begs the question, where does almost $8 million of our tax money go? I think future publications should add more visibility to these budget categories.
Overall, I am happy with the education provided to our kids. But I am very concerned that we are not getting our money’s worth. I hope that the next election will see new board members that have a greater focus on what really counts, student performance and frugal use of our tax dollars.