In Ohio, much has been said and written about the difference between affluent school districts and poor school districts. New rankings that show how much money districts spend per student add a wrinkle to that debate. The rankings show the Ohio district with the highest per-student spending and the district with the lowest per-student spending are both affluent suburbs with excellent schools.
The Orange school district serves an affluent, east side Cleveland suburb. Taxes are high here, and the district spends on average more than $20,000 per pupil – double the average statewide and around the country.
Students at Orange aren’t walking on a red carpet or anything, but things here are a bit nicer than in other districts.
All those electives that schools have been cutting still thrive at Orange, including classes like film making, woodworking and even spinning. It offers expensive sports like hockey and lacrosse.
Unlike other districts, athletes don’t have to pay to play.
Class sizes are small. District wide there are about 20 students per class, and that drops to 14 when you count all the special intervention teachers. Most Orange teachers have at least a master’s degree, with an average salary of more than $80,000.
“We spend more money per pupil but I think we have also focused in on some things that aren’t measured on the academic tests,” says superintendent Nancy Wingenbach.
Orange is a lucky district; voters have approved every levy request since the mid 70’s.
Wingenbach says she does get questions “about where’s all this money going, and I think we’re able to demonstrate it.”
She says a lot of those extras classes and sports aren’t reflected on the state report cards, but they add to the kids’ education.
It is consistently one of the highest rated school districts in Ohio.
Just 45 minutes across town is the Avon Local School District.
Avon spends the least per pupil in the state, just over $7,000 a year. If you’re keeping track, that’s $4,000 a year less than Orange spends.
“We’d like to have some more money to educate our kids,” says superintendent Jim Reitenbach. “There’s a lot of things we’d like to do, we’re operating at bare minimum.”
Avon is not a poor neighborhood. In fact, it’s a pretty affluent suburb, not all that different from Orange. But it is going through a bit of a growth spurt.
In Reitenbach’s 13 years as superintendent, Avon’s student population has more than doubled, going from 1,500 students in the late 90’s to more than 4,000 this year.
That means the district has had to spend a lot of money on school construction projects.
Treasurer Kent Zeman says the community supported a bond issue for a new high school to be built in 1996, “and then we’ve added two elementary (schools), added on to a third elementary, then had to add on to the high school over that time frame and then connect it to an elementary. So we’ve added over 300,000 square feet in instructional environments.”
Student population has grown much faster than tax dollars can be raised. Voters rejected two levies last year, and because it’s a well-off suburb, state level funding has actually gone down in the last few years.
Reitenbach says students and teachers feel the effects; “if you add 200 students, and we translate roughly that for every 20-25 students we have to add a teacher so realistically we probably should have added 10 to 12 teachers that year, and yet we didn’t.”
The average class size at Avon is around 24 students. Most of the new teachers hired are fresh out of college, and the average salary is under $55,000 dollars.
Avon high school isn’t quite as decked out as Orange.
There’s no fancy TV studio, no woodworking shop, no lacrosse team. Students have to pay to play sports.
Senior Maddie Dorner says she’d like to see some more arts classes.
“We have a dark room that’s a storage closet and that makes me so angry but like I know that we just don’t have the means to do it but I would love to take a photography class,” Dorner complains.
A dark room is something Orange still has.
A few extra guidance counselors would be nice too, she says.
“Applying for colleges I basically had no help. I didn’t really know what I was doing. You try to get a meeting but it takes two months to get in so that’s been a big problem.”
Avon has two guidance counselors for 1,100 students. Orange has three for 750 students.
But Dorner says her teachers are great, and she has no complaints about her education. The Avon Local School District has been rated excellent or excellent with distinction for the past 11 years.
That’s the same rating as the more expensive Orange District.
NOTE: A previous version of this story said Orange schools spends more than $11,000 per student while Avon spends close to $7,000 per student. Both numbers are correct, but the figure for Orange schools reflects instructional spending alone, while the figure for Avon is the total spent per pupil. Orange spends an average of $21,463 overall per pupil, and $11,042 on instruction alone. Avon spends an average of $7,181 overall per pupil, and $4,362 on instruction alone. We apologize for the mixup.