Thursday, November 8, 2001

Per pupil spending separates Cape and Scarborough schools

Published in the Current

Scarborough spends 20 percent less than Cape Elizabeth does per student, but the two districts have very similar educational outcomes.

Looking at all the school districts in the state, the average per-pupil expenditure was $5,819 in 1999-2000. Cape spent $6,506, and Scarborough spent $5,224.

To compare the two towns only to similar districts, those paying for all grades, K-12, is more relevant.

The K-12 average, a breakdown the state does not provide but which was calculated by The Current, is $6,070 per student.

Cape Elizabeth spent $436 more than the average, while Scarborough spent $846 less.

Out of the 117 K-12 districts in Maine, Cape Elizabeth ranks 29th, while Scarborough is 100th.

While students in both districts perform generally above the state average on the Maine Educational Assessment tests, Cape Elizabeth students tend to score higher than Scarborough students. The margin between the two towns’ scores, however, is between one and four points in most categories.

Of the 146 graduates from Cape Elizabeth High School in 1999, 81.5 percent pursued postsecondary education. One hundred sixteen went to college or university, according to state statistics. Three went to vocational or technical schools.

Of Scarborough’s 144-strong class of 1999, 88.2 percent enrolled in post-secondary education. One hundred ten went to college or university, and five went to vocational or technical schools. One went to a post-secondary high school course and 11 went to junior colleges.

Superintendent William Michaud said Scarborough schools have a strong curriculum,
excellent staff, good educational outcomes and good facilities.

He said the enrollment growth does put pressure on the district’s finances, but it hasn’t adversely affected the education opportunities available to students.

“Scarborough gets a great return on its investment,” Michaud said. “Scarborough is known statewide as a progressive, high-achieving district.”

Cape Elizabeth school board chair George Entwistle said he is pleased with the education Cape Elizabeth students are receiving.

“The value you receive, using any metric you want, is a good value,” he said. One of the school board’s primary funding goals is helping teachers learn more and do better, he said.

“One of the biggest and best investments we can make is staff development. A highly energized teacher in the classroom is the best guarantee of good education for our kids,” Entwistle said.

By the numbers
Herb Hopkins, business manager for Scarborough’s schools, said the per-pupil spending numbers are not always an accurate reflection of a community’s commitment to education.

Some districts, for example, put buses in the operating budget of the schools, while Scarborough issues bonds to purchase buses. That makes the per-pupil spending appear lower in Scarborough than if the town’s buses were included in the school budget.

A big factor as well, Hopkins said, is that the modular classrooms were refitted by Scarborough as part of its capital improvement budget, rather than its operating budget. Since the state uses operating dollars, not capital improvement dollars, to figure per-pupil spending, that may further lower Scarborough’s ranking in the state.

Hopkins did say, though, that the state’s method is fairly good, and that while Scarborough may actually spend enough to be higher on the list, it wouldn’t be a big change.

“We might be 70th,” Hopkins said, rather than the 100th the district ranks in the state.

Hopkins said Scarborough’s town government supports its schools.

“They have treated the school department pretty well,” he said, allowing the ordering of two or three buses a year as growth requires, rather than the one many districts are able to purchase “if they’re lucky.”

Comparisons to similar districts
Both Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough traditionally compare themselves to K-12 districts in the Greater Portland area which are similar in socio-economic characteristics.

The districts themselves list Yarmouth, Falmouth, School Administrative District 51 (Cumberland and North Yarmouth) and Gorham. Each district also said it looks at the other. Cape said it looks at Freeport as well, while Scarborough looks at Windham and, “to some extent,” South Portland, said Assistant Superintendent David Doyle.

Taken in that context, Cape Elizabeth appears in the middle of the list of its comparison districts, behind Yarmouth and Freeport but ahead of Falmouth, S.A.D. 51 and Gorham.

Scarborough is at the bottom of the list of those districts with which it compares itself, spending less than Gorham by $73.

The district spending the most per student is S.A.D. 7 (North Haven), which spends $13,081 per pupil.

S.A.D. 64 (East Corinth) spends the least, $4,593 per student.

Cape Elizabeth’s business manager, Pauline Aportria, did not return calls requesting information for this story.