Per-pupil spending drops at school corporations

The per-pupil cost of educating local students went down last year as Bartholomew County school districts found ways to cut costs.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. spent $11,788 per pupil for the 2014-15 school year, a statistic included in the Indiana Department of Education’s 2015 annual performance report, released last week. That’s down about 11.4 percent from the 2013-14 school year.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. in Hope saw a 4.8 percent drop in what it spent per pupil for the 2014-15 school year, down to $10,950.

The per-pupil costs included in the annual performance reports represent a three-year average. That means the dollar amount for 2014-15 is an average of the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 costs.

BCSC’s three-year average, per-student costs have been on a downward trend for the past three years, a fact that Chad Phillips, BCSC Title I director, attributes to how the district is spending money.

In the 2010-11 school year, BCSC began working on a $90 million project to renovate Columbus North and Columbus East high schools. Expenditures for that project were included in the district’s overall budget through the 2012-13 school year, Phillips said. Superintendent John Quick said the payments for that project were higher in the beginning and gradually became smaller over the life of the project.

That project meant expenditures were higher those three years, which raised the per-pupil cost each year, school officials said. The higher annual cost also meant the Department of Education would tally higher per-pupil spending for each three-year average that included the three construction years.

This year, only one of the construction years — 2012-13 — is included in the three-year average for the 2014-15 per-pupil spending, which contributes to the large drop the district saw in its three-year average, Phillips said.

When multiple construction years were included in the average, per-pupil costs were naturally significantly higher because they accounted for a large jump in total expenditures, he said. Additionally, the district paid the least amount toward the renovations in 2012-13, which means the jump in expenditures was not as significant, further bringing the overall per-pupil spending down.

While BCSC attributed its falling per-pupil cost number to the construction projects, Flat Rock-Hawcreek points to changing enrollment as the driving force behind its numbers.

The Hope-based public school district has been on a downward enrollment trend over the past decade, and falling enrollment means lower state contributions to the district’s overall budget, Superintendent Shawn Price said.

The school district budget lost $150,000 to $200,000 in state tuition support in 2016.

As enrollment — and state funding — continues to fall, Price said his schools have been forced to do more with less. The district is constantly looking for cost-saving measures, he said, and administrators have had to learn to find creative ways to stretch their budgets.

That loss of funds is the biggest factor driving per-student expenditures down, Price said.

Additionally, as enrollment in Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools falls, the number of students in special education programs also is lower. Special education programs usually cost more than general education programs, Price said. That means as the district enrolls fewer special education students, its per-student expenditures will continue to decline.

Calculating per-pupil spending

The Indiana Department of Education finds each district’s per-pupil spending by dividing the district’s total expenditures by its reported enrollment. When the annual performance reports are created each year, the DOE reports a three-year average on per-pupil expenditures by finding the average of three subsequent yearly per-student costs.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.