I respectfully disagree with Stephen Huth’s contention that Wednesday Journal’s analysis of District 97’s per-pupil spending figures is “meaningless to resource allocation” and “divisive” [Per pupil spending figures flawed and could be divisive, Viewpoints, Nov. 15]. Per-pupil spending figures are routinely used as one relevant benchmark to assess resource allocation. For example, the Dist. 97 School Report Card lists per-pupil expenditures and Realtors who market homes in Oak Park often utilize these figures, as they should, to encourage homeowners to purchase in Oak Park. In a broader context, per-pupil spending figures are used to illustrate the unconscionable funding disparity that exists in Illinois between wealthy and poor communities due to our over-reliance on property taxes as the primary means of funding education.
What the analysis conducted by the Journal illustrated is that there is a substantial disparity in the per-pupil investment for regular education made by Dist. 97 among its eight K-5 schools. On a per-pupil basis, the school with the highest per-pupil investment, Whittier, has a 28 percent higher per-pupil expenditure for regular education than the lowest ranking schools, Mann and Beye. This gap widens to 41 percent between Whittier and Beye when you consider the expenditures for salaries of classroom teachers alone and exclude from consideration the variables in expenditures of Title One resources for low-income children and the impact of itinerant teachers who work in multiple buildings.
Why is this meaningful? It is meaningful because Dist. 97 strives to allocate its resources equitably and when there is a significant disparity in investment between our schools, it should spur discussion and analysis about what causes the disparities to exist and whether the disparities are programmatically justifiable. I fully recognize that each school building is not identical and that an equitable allocation of resources may not be precisely equal since there are reasonable factors that can cause variations in expenditures between buildings. However, when the disparity between the highest and lowest school gets to a percentage in excess of 25 percent, I think it is a cause for concern.
From my analysis, at least two factors create the spending gap between schools-salary differentials attributable to a concentration of relatively more experienced faculty at some schools and costs associated with program initiatives that may be in place at one school but not at others. There is also a correlation that should be examined between per-pupil spending and achievement since several of the schools with the most significant performance gaps between subgroups have relatively lower per-pupil expenditures. Each of these factors merits review and consideration.
As part of the district’s strategic planning effort alignment of resource allocation with achievement of our mission is a key area of focus. I am hopeful that the action team that considers resource allocation considers the pros and cons of the question of whether the district should more evenly distribute veteran and newer teachers so there is a diversity of teacher experience in each school that is roughly equivalent. I also hope that there will be a review of the programs that may be unique to particular schools to determine if those programs should be expanded to other schools, and, if they cannot be offered due to budget constraints, whether they should be reconsidered in the interest of equity.
Analysis of per-pupil spending data and funding disparities should not be perceived as a cause of division but rather as one data source among many potential sources to utilize in reviewing the best approach to resource allocation. Strategic planning is the perfect context for this discussion, in my view, since the district is looking at all aspects of its program to seek growth and improvement through a consensus-based process.
The issues I raise are difficult, but they need not lead to divisiveness. They call for honest discussion and careful analysis-and action where it is warranted. In fact, careful and open consideration of these issues could reduce the potential for divisiveness since open dialogue on these issues would give those who have concern about the equity of resource allocation confidence that their concerns have been considered and addressed in the context of a consensus-based process.
Dan Burke is a member of the District 97 school board.