Last school year, School District 65’s per student expenditures by school varied widely between the schools, ranging from a low of $17,681 at Haven to a high of $23,838 at King Arts, according to a report prepared by Chief Financial and Operational Officer Raphael Obafemi and Business Manager Kathy Zalewski. These numbers do not include the expenditures at Rice, Park or the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, each of which have much higher expenditures per pupil.

The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school districts to report expenditures by school. Obafemi and Zalewski explained in a report dated Oct. 13, “The law is designed to ensure that students with the greatest needs deserve the greatest share of our public education resources. As a result, educational investment should be distributed based on the unique needs of students.

“In practice, students and schools with greater needs determined by students’ learning status (Special Education, English Language Learners) or students whose families are lower wealth should receive financial resources necessary to make good academic progress.”

Since the demographics of student populations vary from school to school, “per student spending will naturally vary,” says the report.

Expenditures by school

In the last school year, 2021-22, District 65 spent more per student at schools that serve a higher percentage of students who have a disability, students who are English language learners and students from low-income households, with a few exceptions, says the report. The exceptions are schools that had relatively higher declines in student enrollment last year than the district’s other schools.

The chart below, prepared using data in the report, shows the average amount of expenses per student at each of the district’s elementary, middle and magnet schools. The per student expenses for each school contain the total of “site level” expenses (e.g., the cost of teachers and administrators at the school and other expenses directly traceable to the school), plus an allocation of central office expenses (e.g., the allocable share of administrators at the central office and transportation costs). 

The chart shows there is a wide variation in the amount of per student expenditures by school. The main difference in the variations are “site-level” per student expenses, which range from a low of $11,939 (Haven) to a high of $17,340 (King Arts). The “central office” per student expenses vary from a low of $5,644 (Nichols) to a high of $6,597 (Oakton).

The average expenditure per student for the 15 schools listed in the above chart is $20,190. In the school year 2018-2019, the average per student expenditure for the same 15 schools was $14,462, so the per student expenditure for those schools has increased by 39.6% in a three-year period.

The expenditures per school do not include debt payments, capital building expenses and pre-K community services, such as childcare services.

The report says that variances in spending are a result of five factors: “student needs (Special Need, English Learners, and Low wealth), variances in school size, specialty programming, differences in teacher salary by building, and state/federal mandated program requirements.”

The report explains some of the variations in expenditures as follows:

  • King Arts, a K-8 magnet school, has the highest percentage of special education students in the district and a higher-than-average percentage of low-income students,
  • Oakton has the highest percentages of low-income students, special education students and ELL students in the district. It offers the African Centered Curriculum program,
  • Chute is the middle school with the highest student need population,
  • Bessie Rhodes, a K-8 magnet school, has the second-highest percentage of low-income students and offers the TWI program,
  • Dawes has a relatively high percentage of special education students, ELL students and low-income students.

Four of the six schools that have the lowest expenditures per pupil are schools in the north end of Evanston: Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Willard and Haven. Lincolnwood and Kingsley have the lowest percentage of ELL and special education students. Haven, as a middle school, has higher class sizes than most other schools in the district, says the report.

The other north end school, Orrington, received the second-highest level of funding. Orrington has the lowest percentage of low-income students and the lowest percentage of special education students in the district. The fact that it receives the second-highest amount of per pupil funding is thus an anomaly. Its high funding level appears to be due to its relatively high drop in enrollment for the 2021-22 school year.  

Schools experiencing the steepest declines in student enrollment in 2021-22 had some of the largest increases in per pupil expenditures, as compared to the prior year. The report gives four examples:  

  • Orrington’s enrollment dropped by 53 students and it had an increase in per pupil expenditures of $5,098 compared to the prior year,
  •  Dewey’s enrollment dropped by 49 students, and it had an increase in per pupil expenditures of $4,361,
  • King Arts’ enrollment dropped by 59 students and an increase in per pupil expenditures of $3,747,
  • Chute’s enrollment dropped by 59 students, and an increase in per pupil expenditures of $3,445.  

This data suggests that the district did not or was not able to reduce expenditures at these schools despite the declines in enrollment.

The expenditures are much higher for students attending Rice Child and Family Center, for students placed in schools outside the district for special education services and for students attending the district’s early childhood center. A chart shows that the per student expenses at Rice were $102,780; the average expenses for students placed out of the district were $76,086; and the expenses for students at the district’s early childhood center were $30,781.  

The report was provided as an informational item to the Finance Committee on Oct. 16. Members of the Finance Committee did not discuss the report.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...

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