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USC School District Annual Report Raises Questions

Is our school board focused on the right things and why don't the numbers add up?

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Angry Bird January 01, 2013 at 12:15 AM
First off "Thank You" for your insightful article. I am glad to see USC has citizens that are willing to express their thoughts and knowledge for all. Once again "Thank You"! Our family has lived in USC for the past ten years and have found the majority of the teachers and administrators to be of high quality and standards. Although there have been a few that as one Administrator put it "forget why they are there". Thankfully this stays as a small minority! As for the board; it doesn't surprise me the board has not expressed the "True Goals" of our education process. Although most of these people are post graduate educated members I believe they forget the basics! They get involved in the politics of IB and its processes and measures and forget what their REAL job is! I am sure the members will refute your claim as "Oversimplified" but the bottom line is, it is just that "SIMPLE". Run for office and I will vote for YOU! I'll campaign for you!
Laura Whitcomb January 01, 2013 at 12:25 AM
I also thank you, Glenn Robinson, for your most insightful comments and list of concerns. I agree with Angry Bird that you should run for the USC School Board - you can count on my vote!
Duke January 02, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Wow! Whether the cost per student is $13,085.93 or $15,101.85 it seems that either amount is outrageously high!
Glenn Robinson January 02, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Thank you everyone for reading and commenting on my blog entry. To Angry Bird's point, some may say I have over simplified the issue of goals. To those folks I ask, do you not start a trip by picking a destination? Duke, both numbers are in line with typical spending for public schools and may not include all costs. For reference, read this policy analysis paper: http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa662.pdf
April N. Jackson January 21, 2013 at 09:15 PM
We are new to the district and, I am very happy with the schools. Our son's picture actually made it in the report (we found that so funny). I truly appreciate your article. It was very insightful and has some very, very good points. It is important that we as parents take a close look at our schools budgets, polices, goals, etc. Our children deserve this and the public schools ultimately work for us.

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