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District 36: Cost Per Student Up Due to Debt, Decrease in Attendance

Winnetka Public Schools District 36’s cost per student increased the most out of the six public schools that feed into New Trier Township High School District 203.

Winnetka school officials say the sharp increase in cost per student in when compared with nearby school districts could be due to debt and decrease in student attendance. 

Since 2006, the cost per student has increased 45 percent, from $13,165 per student to $19,027 in 2011, according to figures provided by the district. 

Among the six public school districts that feed into New Trier High School Township District 203, Winnetka’s cost per student increased the most, according to a Chicago Sun-Times’ analysis. 

"It really is a completely different array of numbers in every district, depending on what funds they use, how much debt they have, whether they're using a fixed asset account or not," said Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.  

School debt up 153 percent since 2006

Susan Pingitore, chief financial officer for the school district, says part of the disparity for the increased cost at District 36 could be debt-related. 

Over the same five-year period, the school district’s debt service has gone up 153 percent to $4 million in 2011 from $1.6 million in 2006, Pingitore said. 

Other factors could include the gradual decrease in daily school attendance, which dropped to 1594 students in 2011 from 1854 in 2006, according to Pingitore. 

Last year, 25 of the district's staff members either retired or resigned, which will have an impact on the cost-per-pupil for 2013. 

"This calculus of numbers is changing constantly, and so it’s going to be pretty difficult to compare ourselves to other districts," Hagerman said. 

Board: What’s acceptable standard cost?

Even so, Hagerman and several board members agree that the data has prompted the district to seek an overview of the cost-per-student standard. 

"If these questions are even close to being right, we have to ask ourselves, 'Is this the trend we want?'" said Board Member Thomas Shannon

Pingitore says the burning question for the school district is, “What is acceptable? What is the standard that we should have as a community?" 

The school district is in the final stages of developing the 2013 fiscal year budget but no changes were specified. 

The budget hearing, along with a vote on its adoption, is set for the September 11 school board meeting. In addition to an update on expenditures, the budget will be revised to reflect the new estimated revenues, based on the latest data from Cook County Clerk, property tax revenues and the Illinois State Board of Education, Pingitore said. 

The next board meeting will be held on September 11 at 7:15 p.m. in the .

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Suzy August 16, 2012 at 08:38 PM
The debt is the result of operating (2003) and capital expenditure (2007) referenda. As such, it was generated to support a higher level of spending on operations and building projects. The cost per student is what it is because that is what has been spent to operate the district--a figure that is easily, and not so favorably, compared to the bottom line of other districts. Whether the amount is reasonable, appropriate or even efficient is not so easily answered.

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