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By RON BENNINGFIELD
LaRue County Schools has been selected as one of four “Diamond in the Rough” districts in Kentucky by the Bluegrass Institute forPublic Policy Solutions for LaRue’s notably above-average academic performance versus per pupil funding despite the district’s student poverty rate.
The other districts include Eminence Independent and Graves and Mason counties.
Richard Innes, staff education analyst with Bluegrass Institute, noted in a report, Bang for the Buck, that the study “gauges the return that taxpayers — the people who support Kentucky’s public schools — receive on their investment.”
“We hope the report will encourage school districts to focus on how to use the money they receive more efficiently,” said Innes.
The 2012 report is a follow-up to the Institute’s original Bang for the Buck report issued in 2006.
“We created the Bang for the Buck to highlight the fact that Kentucky’s constitution requires an efficient education system, but little research has been conducted on how efficiently our schools produce results for each dollar taxpayers provide,” Innes explained.
The institute derived its latest findings by comparing each school district’s ACT results to its per-pupil spending. The report found that many efficient schools receive low funding yet achieve above-average academic results.
In arriving at its findings, Bluegrass Institute developed a score-spending index. A school district receiving average results on the ACT with an average level of state funding received a score-spending index of zero.
A positive SSI figure indicated above-average bang for the buck performance. For example, a school district with an SSI of 50 performs about 50 percent better than the state average on spending its dollars wisely.
To become a “Diamond in the Rough” district, a school system had to meet four requirements: have a score-spending index indicating results at least 10 percent better than the statewide average, based on 2011 data; have an ACT composite score from the 11th grade testing conducted statewide in 2011 at least 0.5 point above the average for all districts; have a free and reduced cost school lunch participation rate, a measure of student poverty, at least equal to the 2011 statewide average; and have a high school graduation rate based on the 2010 rate reported by the Kentucky Department of Education for No Child Left Behind accountability at least equal to the statewide average rate. The 2011 graduation rate data, released only recently, didn’t become available until after all the analysis was complete. Bluegrass Institute selected the criteria.
“We wanted to find systems operating above state average efficiency that had notable poverty rates,” Innes remarked. “We didn’t want to highlight a school that got high scores due to excessive dropouts.”
“We looked to see what these schools produced from what they had to work with,” he continued. “We were pretty selective, wanting to highlight school systems that showed poverty does not need to be an excuse in Kentucky.”
LaRue County’s 11th grade ACT composite scores versus the district’s per pupil spending in the 2010-11 school year resulted in an SSI of 19.57, indicating the district did almost 20 percent better than the statewide average in producing educational bang for the taxpayers’ buck.
Sam Sanders, LaRue County Schools’ superintendent, credited an “essential question,” which he continually asks himself, for the district’s efficient use of its instructional money.
“That question is, ‘How is the use of this resource going to improve student achievement in a measurable way over a continuous period of time?’” he stated.
“I was fortunate to be able to select Oldham County superintendent Blake Haselton as my new superintendent mentor,” Sanders recalled. “Superintendent Haselton said the essential question guides every decision made in the district. We adopted this philosophy here in LaRue County.”
The district also puts a great deal of emphasis on the human resource, Sanders added.
“Our board of education has allowed the district to be able to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers and administrators through a competitive pay scale,” he noted. “In 2012 LaRue County had the 10th best certified salary schedule in the state.”
Ron Benningfield is a correspondent for LaRue County Schools.