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Basic statistic

Each September brings another school year and, for many area residents, another reminder of how much they contribute to paying the cost of operating public schools. 

Those relieved to see a more modest increase-or even slight decrease-in this year’s school tax bill should keep in mind a few important facts. 

First, per-pupil spending is a better measure of fiscal responsibility. And though the average spending increase this year is lower than in the recent past, it still outpaces the inflation rate. 

Indeed, the difference statewide between the average per-pupil spending hike and the annual inflation rate-which as of July was minus 2.1 percent-is even bigger than it was when the rate of spending increase was twice as high. 

Second, New York remains the biggest public school spender nationwide. Census Bureau data released in late July show that this state’s per-pupil spending-roughly $16,000-is 65 percent above the national average. 

The amount collected from local sources-i.e., property taxes-is 75 percent higher than the U.S. average. But this does not mean, as some suggest, that state support for public schools lags in New York; in fact, it ranks fifth-highest nationwide. 

Where does the money go? Much of it pays teacher salaries, which are 81 percent above the national average on a per-pupil basis. And in the most recent data, the average cost of employee benefits for teachers in New York was nearly 130 percent higher than the U.S. average. 

While administrative costs account for a much smaller share of total spending, a glance at the list of highest-paid public school officials, published in this week’s edition of the Rochester Business Journal, reveals that every one of the top 50 earns more than $137,000 a year. 

By contrast, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks earns only $120,000 annually.

As noted here a number of times, the hard data reveal no correlation between spending and graduation rates. Some districts with superior student performance have among the lowest per-pupil spending, and vice versa. 

However, there is a direct correlation that property owners should keep in mind: the one between their taxes and the school budgets that pass almost every time these spending plans are put to a vote.

09/04/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303. 

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