Why one school in District 116 spends $2,000 more per student than another school

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 officials say they strive to make sure students at both district middle schools have the same support, resources and opportunities.

Yet, the new per-pupil school spending data released Wednesday in the 2019 Illinois Report Card shows a difference - the district spends about $2,000 more per pupil at John T. Magee Middle School, $13,132 in total, compared to Round Lake Middle School's $11,152.

Superintendent Donn Mendoza said the reason for the disparity largely has to do with enrollment - Round Lake has about 900 students and Magee has about 770 students.

Despite that difference, Mendoza said, the district needs to employ around the same number of teachers at both schools to make schedules work, which leads to slight differences in class size. The average class size at Round Lake Middle is 21 and the average class size at Magee Middle is 19. The larger the class size, the lower the per-pupil spending is at a school, he explained.

"At the end of the day, the difference is literally about math and not about trying to get one school more support," Mendoza said. "If somebody doesn't have the context that you and I are talking about, they could easily say there is an inequity here."

Mendoza says District 116 employs fewer counselors at Magee than at Round Lake because of the enrollment difference. However, if they tried to cut teachers, there wouldn't be enough educators to fill students' schedules.

Another disparity in per-pupil school spending that seems dramatic initially can be found at Grayslake Elementary District 46, which spends $24,697 per student at its Early Childhood Center - around twice the amount spent at the district's five kindergarten through fourth-grade elementary schools.

John Herrin, the district's chief school business official, said the population at the Early Childhood Center includes a large number of students the state has identified as having special needs, which requires the district, by law, to keep class sizes small to ensure the young students don't fall behind their peers.

Special needs students also require additional support in the form of social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational and physical therapists, Herrin said.

"While the district's general population has access to these supports as well, the concentration and caseload of those servicing the Early Childhood Center is greater than in other sites," he said.

Herrin also said the majority of teachers and staff at the Early Childhood Center are among the district's most senior and experienced, which means their salaries and benefits are higher.

"District 46 is proud of the composition of the staff at the site," he said. "(They) provide an excellent education to the enrolled children."

Lake County per-student spending

Highest per-student spending:

Rondout Elementary School, K-8, Rondout District 72: $31,491

Grass Lake Elementary School, PK-8, Grass Lake District 36: $26,631

Grayslake Early Childhood Center, PK, Grayslake District 127: $24,697

Vernon Hills High School, 9-12, Libertyville-Vernon Hills District 128: $23,942

Libertyville High School, 9-12, District 128: $23,543

Lowest per-student spending:

Gavin South Middle School, 5-8, Gavin District 37: $7,447

Gavin Central Elementary School, PK-4, District 37: $8,437

Big Hollow Elementary School, 2-4, Big Hollow District 38: $9,379

Big Hollow Middle School, 5-8, District 38: $9,504

William L. Thompson School, PK-6, Lake Villa District 41: $9,628

Source: 2019 Illinois Report Card

  A seventh grade language arts class at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake. The 2019 state report card breaks down how much each public school spends per pupil for the first time. Brian Hill/
  Students in Erica Robinson's math class at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake use school-issued laptops to complete a lesson. Magee spends more per student than its sister middle school in Round Lake Area Unit District 116. Brian Hill/
  Rebecca Feder teaches language arts to her seventh-grade class at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake. The district spends about $2,000 more per student at Magee compared to its other middle school, which school officials say has more to do with class sizes than a difference in equity. Brian Hill/
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