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Wakulla schools get high rank for ‘Bang for buck’

A report released this week found that Wakulla County Schools is one of the eight most productive school districts in the state.
“It’s a big deal,” said Superintendent of Schools Bobby Pearce. “I’m really proud of it,” he said, adding that “It’s an affirmation of a lot of people’s really hard work.”

The study, “Return on Educational Investment 2014,” was conducted by the Center for American Progress and released July 9. The report  examined the productivity of almost every major school district in the country.

According to the return on investment district-by-district evaluation, the following Florida districts received the highest return on investment rating: Wakulla, Seminole, Santa Rosa, Nassau, Clay, Brevard, Bay and Baker.

The study measured the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its education spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

Randy Beach, chief financial officer for the Wakulla school district, said that since the last school tax increase, which was seven years ago, in 2007-08, the school district has locally collected an average of $1.5 million less per year. This year, he said, the district will collect $2.6 million less from Wakulla taxpayers than collected in 2007-08.

“Despite the decreases,” Beach said, “the Wakulla school district has added multiple student programs including auto mechanics, engineering, AVID, welding, the medical academy and more.”

Comparing how schools utilize public funding to enhance student achievement is the basis for the index.

School funding levels differ depending on the number of students with greater-than-average education needs, such as English learners or students with disabilities.

The “return on investment” tool is not a new accountability tool, but is used to inform decision making about school spending. The Florida Education Finance Program is complex. Dollars come to the district with their own set of policies and procedures that include categorical programs.

The study used data from 2011. Wakulla school revenues totaled more than $46 million, which translated to $8,935 per student.
Total expenditures came to $44 million, or about $8,600 per student, which earned a rank of 8th in the state.

“This is something that helps school administrators, parents and public better recognize the most cost effective programs in essence, to figure ways to do more with what we have,” Pearce said of the study. “We continually evaluate how effectively tax dollars are being spent. We are working together to improve accountability procedures and focus on building a stronger, more innovative educational system while simultaneously maintaining a transparent and actionable budget.”

Pearce said he has been using the study’s findings to urge his administrators to do more.

“With the clientele we have and the support from the county, we should be doing better,” he said he told them. “The sky’s the limit.”
The study on district achievement and spending in almost 40 states is available online at http://interactives.americanprogress.org.