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Which DuPage schools spend the most per student?

Byline: Katlyn Smith

Comparing two sister schools in Glen Ellyn shows why new spending data in the 2019 Illinois Report Card should come with an asterisk.

Glenbard South High School spends $19,024 to educate each student. Its district counterpart, Glenbard West High, spends $14,888.

Why does a student's education cost $4,136 more at South than at another Glenbard just four miles away? District 87 officials say South has the smallest enrollment of the four Glenbard high schools and doesn't benefit from the same economies of scale.

Elsewhere in DuPage County, school-by-school spending -- now included in the state report card -- varies widely within districts.

Per-pupil spending includes ongoing educational expenses, such as salaries, supplies, transportation, security, administrative services and a school's proportional share of other centralized expenditures.

"From our perspective, I think it affirmed that really, resources are being allocated and driven to where the student need is," Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler said.

Among the district's 19 elementary, middle and high schools, Bower Elementary in Warrenville is tops with $18,748 in per-pupil expenditures. Conversely, Wiesbrook Elementary in Wheaton spends $10,603 per student.

Schuler points to special education programs as the primary reason behind Bower's higher per-student spending.

At Bower, 53 students develop functional life skills through the district's Syracuse and Communications/Social Skills, or CSI, programs. In addition to working with classroom-based staff, students in those programs receive services from school social workers, psychologists and other therapists. Seven classrooms house those programs at Bower, which received a commendable designation in the state's school rating system.

"Those seven classrooms carry a higher level of support for students, as well as a lower class size based on the student need that's being served," Schuler said.

One outlier is Lombard District 44, where the difference in per-pupil spending at its six elementary schools is almost negligible. Spending ranged between $17,010 at Madison Elementary to $17,057 at Park View Elementary.

"Over the last several years, we have taken steps to centralize our spending to ensure equity across the district for all our students," Superintendent Ted Stec said in a written statement.

"We continue to review our per-pupil spending as one of our most important indicators of this appropriate allocation of resources. We worked with an outside firm (district auditor Baker Tilly) on developing an allocation model to be in compliance."

At Glenbard South, 16.7% of students have an individualized education plan, compared with 8.8% at West. The special education population is one factor for the higher per-pupil costs at South, but not the main reason, Assistant Superintendent Chris McClain said.

South enrolls 1,164 students -- roughly half the enrollment at Glenbard West (2,344), Glenbard North (2,236) and Glenbard East (2,244). South doesn't "have that same ability to leverage" costs, McClain said.

"There's a lot of costs that go into running a school building, and when you're allocating those costs across a smaller enrollment, a student enrollment, that cost-per-student is going to be higher," he said. "And that's the primary reason when I look at our data."

East and North both receive federal Title I funding for students from low-income families.

Low-income students comprise 41.7% of the student body at East and 33.4% at North. The Lombard and Carol Stream schools spend $16,816 and $16,689 on per-student costs, respectively.

Even without Title I money, South still has the highest per-student costs as the smallest of the four schools.

"It's just a function of size, the economies of scale because all of our students, we're very careful about how we structure metrics in terms of how many teachers per student," McClain said.

"And we're very meticulous about things like that to make sure that we provide fair and equitable services throughout the district."
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Author:Katlyn Smith
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Oct 31, 2019
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