Sunday, December 03, 2023

Analysis Of Per Pupil Expenditures For Oconee County Schools Shows Spending Outpaced Inflation In Last 10 Years

***OCS Received 5 Star Efficiency Rating–in 2019***

Pam Hendrix told the Oconee County Board of Education last month during the public comment section of its meeting that she wanted to understand spending per student in Oconee County Schools and how it has changed over time.

She said her goal was frustrated by errors in calculations of Per Pupil Expenditures in the 2022-23 Annual Report Oconee County Schools had sent to mailboxes in the county in July.

That report states that Oconee County Schools is “#1 In Financial Efficiency In Georgia” and “#1 Statewide Financial Efficiency,” but it presents data for Oconee and four other school systems showing that Oconee County spends substantially more per student than at least one of those systems--if the math is done correctly.

Board Member Michael Ransom told Hendrix after the meeting that the calculation in the Report is wrong, seeming to negate the claim in two places in the 2022-23 Annual Report that Oconee County Schools is the most efficient in the state in terms of per pupil expenditure.

A detailed analysis of both local and state data shows that Oconee County Schools did receive a Five Star Financial Efficiency rating based on standardized measures of student performance and per pupil spending in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019–the only years for which the ratings are available.

Those same standardized measures show that Oconee County Schools ranked eighth in the state simply in terms of standardized Per Pupil Expenditure in 2022, not first, and 55th in terms of standardized state and local Per Pupil Expenditure.

The analysis also shows that simple Per Pupil Expenditure increased by 17.5 percent from Fiscal Year 2023 to Fiscal Year 2024, but that was a year in which the legislature increased state funding through the Qualify Basic Education formula by 13.0 percent and Oconee County Schools opened its new Dove Creek Middle School.

Across the last 10 years, however, Oconee County schools has spent more per student each year than would have been required to keep up with inflation, and spending in Fiscal Year 2024 per student was $2,190 above what would have been required simply to offset the effects of inflation.

Hendrix And Ransom

Hendrix, a Watkinsville attorney who ran in 2010 for Superior Court Judge in the Western Judicial Circuit and for Tax Commissioner in 2012, told the Board at its meeting on Nov. 6 that the figures in the 2022-23 Annual Report didn’t make sense to her.

The Annual Report lists the Expenditure Per Pupil as $10,497.

The Report also lists the operating budget of $105,970,180 and the number of students as 8,547. The division of that budget by that number of students is $12,399.

The report also lists per pupil expenditures of Oconee, Barrow, Oglethorpe, Jackson, and Clarke counties, showing Oconee with the lowest expenditure–$10,497.

Barrow and Oglethorpe spend less than $12,399, the per student expenditure based on the budget information and student numbers in the report.

“I don't know whether it was a math error. I don't know what it is. I would like to know. I'd like somebody to address that,” Hendrix said at last month’s meeting.

No one responded to Hendrix when she spoke, but Hendrix told me in an email on Nov. 16 that “Michael Ransom came up to me at the end of the meeting and acknowledged that the per student expenditure is indeed $12,000.”

I asked Ransom in an email on that same day if he had told Hendrix that “per pupil expenditure was $12,000, not what is shown on the annual report”?

“That is correct,” Ransom said in response that same day.

Analysis Of Per Student Spending From Local Budgets

Hendrix told the Board she was interested in how spending per student had changed over time. No one responded to that part of her request, though Oconee County Schools has those data.

Click To Enlarge

Oconee County Schools lists an “Anticipated Expenditures Per Student” figure in its General Fund budget each year.

The figure is the result of the division of “Total Anticipated Expenditures” by the estimated number of students in the coming academic year.

Those budgets are filed with the Tax and Expenditure Data Center for Georgia Local Governments (TED Center) in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

I downloaded those budgets for the last 10 years. I also checked each of those budgets against the budgets on the simbli site of the Board of Education.

I then computed anew the per pupil expenditure based on the reported “Total Anticipated Expenditures” in the budgets and the actual enrollment in Oconee County Schools in its official report to the Georgia Department of Education in October of each school year.

Per Pupil Expenditure has increased from $7,970 in Fiscal Year 2015 to $12,416 in the current Fiscal Year 2024.

Growth had been relatively modest until this last year, and there was little change in Fiscal Year 2019 when Dove Creek Elementary School opened. In Fiscal Year 2023, the ratio of spending to number of students had been $10,570.

Adjustments For Inflation

Using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Areas, the usual measure of inflation, I next calculated how much the Per Pupil Expenditure Figure of $7,970 would have to increase each year to compensate for inflation.

In Fiscal Year 2016, for example, Oconee County Schools would have to have spent $7,983 simply to offset inflation, that is, obtain the same purchasing outcome as was produced by the spending of $7,970 in Fiscal Year 2015.

By the current fiscal year, Fiscal Year 2024, Oconee County Schools would have to have spent $10,226 to offset inflation, that is, to obtain the same goods and services as $7,970 produced in Fiscal Year 2015.

I next computed the difference between the Per Pupil Expenditure each year needed to offset inflation and the actual Per Pupil Expenditure of Oconee County Schools.

That figure averaged across the nine years of the comparisons was $1,029, but it was much larger--$2,190--in the current Fiscal Year 2024.

The Georgia General Assembly fully funded the Qualify Basic Education formula this year, and tucked into that funding the increase in teacher salaries Gov. Brian Kemp had promised when he ran for re-election in 2022.

The Fiscal Year 2024 budget approved by the Board also added 24 expansion positions, including 17 teachers. Many, but not all, of those new positions were at Dove Creek Middle School.

The Fiscal Year 2024 budget shows a $3.9 million increase in teacher salaries and a $4.9 million increase in healthcare costs for certified employees.

Chris Herring told the Board during the public comment section of its meeting in August that the budget had grown at an appropriate rate given inflation and student growth until this year. “This year it is just like someone just opened the spigots,” he said.

Analysis Of State Standardized Data

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement also computes a Per Pupil Expenditure measure as part of its collaboration with the Georgia Department of Education in production of a Financial Efficiency Star Rating for school districts in the state.

Click To Enlarge

The most recent data, for school year 2021-2022, were released in March of 2023.

The Per Pupil Expenditure calculation used by the Governor’s Office excludes expenditures that do not affect the K-12 population, those associated with food and facility construction, and expenditures that cannot be associated with a specific year.

In addition, expenditures for students that are outside of the district’s enrollment zone are excluded from the calculation.

The purpose of the exclusions is to standardize the data for comparison of districts across the state.

Those data show that Oconee County Per Pupil Expenditure has grown from $8,055 in 2016, the first year for which the data are available, to $10,027 in school year 2021-2022.

If only state and local funding is used for the calculation, Per Pupil Expenditures have increased from $7,833 in 2016 to $9,562 in 2022.

Oconee County ranked eighth from the bottom in total Per Pupil Expenditure in 2021-2022, and 55th from the bottom in Per Pupil Expenditure based solely on state and local funding.

Financial Efficiency Star Rating

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and the Georgia Department of Education use a Financial Efficiency Star Rating (FESR) for school districts in the state by computing an index based on measures of student performance and the standardized measure of Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE).

The performance index is called a College And Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).

Districts can earn between a half star and five stars, with a half star rating for districts with the highest PPEs and low CCRPI scores, and a five-star rating for districts with the lowest PPEs and high CCRPI scores.

Because of disruptions due to the COVID pandemic, the last of these ratings was in 2019.

The 2019 district FESR is based on a three-year average (2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019) of PPE and CCRPI scores.

Oconee County Schools 5 Star Rating

On Nov. 13, I wrote to Steven Colquitt, Director of Communication for Oconee County Schools, saying “I have spent quite a bit of time trying to find the ranking that shows OCS is #1 Financial Efficiency in Georgia at the bottom left of page 3 and #1 Statewide Financial Efficiency GaDOE shown at the top left of page 4 in the 2022-23 Annual Report released in July.”

“Can you help me locate the source of that designation?” I asked.

“Thank you for your email,” Colquitt responded. “The source of that designation is here.”

The link was to the Financial Efficiency Star Rating Archives.

The actual ratings appear on the Georgia Department of Education site, and they show that Oconee County Schools received the highest rating, a score of 5, in each of the four years for which the rating was produced: 2016 through 2019.

In 2019, only two other school systems received a 5 Star rating: Forsyth County Schools and Jefferson City Schools.

Problems With Annual Reports

Ransom, in is email to me, said that the Annual Report sent to citizens in the county in July “should be a year in review and reflect the previous year's numbers, 2022-2023.”

Click To Enlarge

He said that the “per student expenditure in the report accurately reflects the amount for the 2022-2023 school year.”

The $10,497 is close to the figure of $10,511 that appears in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

“I believe there is a typo for the budget which is actually for the 2023-2024 school year,” Ransom wrote, meaning that the “typo” was the inclusion of the budget figures for Fiscal Year 2024 in the 2022-23 Annual Report rather than the figures from the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.

The 2022-23 Annual Report also should have included the actual enrollment for that year, 8531, since it was known, rather than 8,547, and the millage rate for Fiscal Year 2024, not for Fiscal Year 2023.

The 2021-2022 Annual Report also contained errors, including a misreporting of the millage rate, the same calculation error for Per Pupil Expenditure as in the 2022-23 Report, and the same claim that Oconee County Schools was “#1 Financial Efficiency In Georgia.”

Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, Oglethorpe Comparisons

Both the 2021-22 and the 2022-23 Annual Reports contain comparisons with the school districts of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, and Oglethorpe counties.

Jefferson Schools and Commerce Schools are not included in the Jackson County School District.

The Reports do not specify the nature of the data used in the comparisons, but they are presented under the heading “#1 Financial Efficiency Georgia.” Colquitt said the source of that designation was data from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

It seems unlikely the data in the Report are from that source, however, because the most recent data, released in March of this year, are for Fiscal Year 2022, not Fiscal Year 2022-23, the date on the Annual Report mailed in July.

I downloaded the budgets for the last three years from the TED Center for Barrow, Clarke, and Jackson Counties. Oglethorpe County did not file its budgets with the TED Center, but I found its most budget on the school web site.

The budgets do not follow a similar format, and include differing components.

For that reason, I compared these standardized data for the five school systems based on the Fiscal Year 2022 data from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

What that comparison shows is that Oconee County had the lowest Per Pupil Expenditure among the five systems if total Included Expenditures are used, but the second lowest after Barrow County if Per Pupil Expenditures of state and local monies are used in the calculation.

None of the calculations match those in either the 2021-22 Annual Report for Oconee County Schools or the 2022-23 Annual Report.

No comments: