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Front Page » May 16, 2006 » Local News » Independent organization's analysts evaluate public schoo...
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Independent organization's analysts evaluate public school spending data

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Operational expenditures in Utah's kindergarten to 12th grade public education systems and charter schools climbed 5 percent per student in fiscal year 2005.

The increase continued the state's long-term trend of public school operational expenditures climbing faster than inflation, noted the latest analysis by the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Instructional spending per student grew at a slightly lower 4.3 percent rate. When all public school costs are included, spending per student increased by 2.7 percent in Utah last year.

Spending varies from school district to district, pointed out the independent organization's analysts. Rural systems tend to spend the most per student and fast growing suburban schools spend the least.

A commonly used measure for efficiency is the percent of operational expenditures appropriated for instruction, explained the foundation. Utah has generally ranked at the top of the spending list compared to the nation under the measure.

For the last several years, the percent of operation expenditures dedicated to instruction in Utah's school district has hovered at approximately 68 percent.

Generally, urban and suburban districts have higher efficiency rates than rural public schools, noted the analysts. But several districts counter the statewide trend.

For example, Piute is Utah's third smallest school district in terms of enrollment. But Piute's efficiency rate registers at 70 percent.

Counted in the state's 10 largest districts, Jordan and Granite posted 67 percent efficiency rates last year. Ogden, the 11th largest school district, posted one of the lowest efficiency rate at 61 percent.

State income taxes continue to represent the primary source of district and charter revenues, indicated the foundation report.

In 2005, income taxes accounted for 67.7 percent of kindergarten to 12th grade operating revenues. Property taxes and local revenues accounted for 20.3 percent and 3 percent of the 2005 funding respectively.

Comprised of 99 percent in income taxes and about 1 percent in liquor profits for the lunch program, state monies account for 55.1 percent of all revenues earmarked for Utah's public schools.

Revenue distribution varies significantly on a district basis.

Park City receives 18 percent of the district's operating revenues from the state.

But 17 school districts at locations across Utah receive at least 70 percent of the local public education systems' operating revenues from the state's coffers.

Almost 96 percent of state funding is used for operations, continued the taxpayers association analysis.

By comparison, 53 percent of property tax monies generated statewide in Utah are allocated to fund public school operations.

Last year, total district and charter spending surpassed the $3.0 billion mark for the first time.

Total revenues climbed 6.4 percent compared to 2004. Federal revenues grew 8.3 percent, followed by property taxes at 8.1 percent, local funding sources at 5.7 percent and state monies at 5.3 percent.

Revenues and expenditures do not match because capital expenditures occur in a short time period while property tax revenues generated to pay bonds are received during longer periods.

Additionally, districts and charters may use revenues to increase reserves or may use existing reserves to increase expenditures.

At the district level, administrative costs per student decrease as district enrollment increases. But once enrollment exceeds 5,000 students, the reduction in administrative cost are not significantly high.

With enrollments exceeding 50,000, Utah's four largest public school systems have an average district level administrative cost of $147 per student. The next four largest districts, with enrollments between 21,000 and 29,000, have an average district level administrative cost per student of $162.

The next five largest districts - with enrollments between 10,000 and 14,000 - have an average district level administrative cost per student of $176.

Once district enrollment dips below 5,000, administrative costs per student tend to increase.

Nearly all of the smaller school districts in Utah reported costs exceeding $200 per student.

Many of the districts' costs exceed $300 per student.

The administrative costs reported of a handful of extremely small school districts exceed $1,000 per student, concluded the Utah Taxpayers Association analysts.

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