'Diverse and unique' needs cause per-student spending variances among Fox Valley schools
At Perry Elementary School in Carpentersville, a specialized program focuses on helping students struggling with emotional traumas and behavioral issues.
The DREAM Academy is the first of its kind in the suburbs, offering extra support, smaller class sizes and more staffing than a traditional classroom to meet the needs of at-risk students.
Those extra resources contribute to Perry Elementary's spending of $13,355 per student -- thousands of dollars higher than per-pupil costs at some other Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 schools, according to the 2019 Illinois Report Card data released Wednesday.
Perry falls within the district's top five K-12 sites, all of which spend more than $13,000 per pupil. The schools with the lowest per-student costs are below $10,000.
Need-based programming, dual-language classes, student population, grant funding, and the longevity, experience and credentials of teachers are among the factors that can cause a disparity in a district's per-student expenditures by school, suburban educators said.
In addition to offering the DREAM Academy, for example, Perry Elementary receives federal Title 1 dollars that are awarded to schools with high percentages of low-income students, District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said.
An entirely different scenario plays out at Sleepy Hollow Elementary, which has the district's highest elementary per-pupil costs at $14,117. The school has special needs services and ancillary workers, Heid said, as well as a veteran teaching staff, meaning it's paying higher salaries and benefits than a facility with younger educators.
Meanwhile, Lake in the Hills Elementary spends $9,544 per student, the lowest of any non-charter District 300 school. Administrators plan to take a closer look at why that facility comes in at the bottom, Heid said, though it's likely due to a generally novice teaching staff and a lack of "heavy-cost" programming needs.
"It always raises a valid question about where our dollars are actually spent," he said, "but we are very comfortable with where we are."
The variance in per-pupil spending is similar at Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second-largest school district educating 37,616 students in 57 buildings. Among its 40 elementary schools, spending ranges from $9,426 at Bartlett up to $13,568 at Sunnydale in Streamwood.
The district average for students with individualized education programs is 15.4%. Two of U-46's top spending elementary schools, Sunnydale and Wayne, educate significantly higher numbers of special needs students -- 17.5% at Sunnydale and 19.5% at Wayne, which spends $13,392 per pupil.
"We have some pretty impactful special education programs at Wayne that would require specialized transportation for some of our students," said Josh Carpenter, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. "Wayne is one of our higher transportation allocations per pupil."
At the six elementary schools in Geneva Unit District 304, per-student spending ranges from $11,409 at Mill Creek to $14,170 at Fabyan. That's a reflection of enrollment, program and grant allocation differences, not in the "overall quality of the educational experience provided for students in our schools," said Shonette Sims, director of learning and teaching.
"It would be nearly impossible for schools to maintain the exact same per-student spending when the variables that factor into a school's programmatic needs can be so diverse and unique," she said.
Per-pupil expenditures in Kane, McHenry elementary schools
Highest per-student spending:
Glacier Ridge Elementary School* (Crystal Lake), Crystal Lake 47: $18,600
Grace McWayne Elementary School (Batavia), Batavia 101: $18,409
Hoover Wood Elementary School (Batavia), Batavia 101: $17,104
Landmark Elementary School (McHenry), McHenry 15: $17,044
Beaupre Elementary School (Aurora), Aurora East 131: $16,915
Lowest per-student spending:
Bartlett Elementary School, U-46: $9,426
Lake in the Hills Elementary School, District 300: $9,544
Martin Elementary School (Lake in the Hills), Huntley 158: $9,783
Gary D. Wright Elementary School (Hampshire), District 300: $9,784
Leggee Elementary School (Huntley), Huntley 158: $9,917
*Glacier Ridge also includes the Wehde Early Childhood Center, a blended preschool that serves general education and special needs students.
Source: 2019 Illinois Report Card
• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.