Vindicator Logo

Study shows how state’s schools can save money

By Denise Dick

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Staff report

cincinnati

Ohio school districts could save nearly $1.4 billion a year if they were able to emulate the best practices of the most-efficient districts in the state.

It’s a savings that would nearly equal the 10 percent cut that state leaders suggested they needed to make to help balance the next biennial budget, according to a study released this week by Ohio Education Matters.

The significance of the savings is that the state may be able to reduce its support for primary and secondary education by as much as 10 percent without forcing districts to make deep cuts in instructional spending, said Andrew Benson, executive director of Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.

“The situation in every school district is different, but the Ohio Smart Schools benchmarking study shows that some districts seem to be getting more for their money in noninstructional spending than their peers,” Benson said. “If all districts were to be as efficient as those we identified as best-in-class, public schools could save significant money without hurting student achievement.”

Ohio Education Matters released the report as the third in its Ohio Smart Schools initiative, which was undertaken last year at the request of the state of Ohio as a way to find efficiencies in K-12 education spending.

The report, “Benchmarking Ohio’s School Districts: Identifying districts that get more for their money in noninstructional spending,” examined district-level spending in central-office administration, school-building level administration, student transportation, food service and building maintenance and operations for all Ohio school districts.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization had news conferences in Canton and Akron this week to highlight the efficiencies of those districts, which were designated as best-in-class among large and small urban districts.

The benchmarking study grouped Ohio school districts with similar districts and identified those that were spending less but also meeting minimal quality indicators in each service area.

The 5 percent lowest-spending districts in each category meeting quality levels were designated the best-in-class, and there were 135 of them across the state. A comparison was then made to those districts in each group that spent more than the best-in-class, and the study found that the districts potentially could save:

$125.6 million in student transportation.

$138 million in food service.

$240 million school-building level administration.

$248 million in central-office administration.

$617.9 million in building maintenance and operations.

Across those noninstructional spending areas, school districts could save $1.37 billion a year, a savings of 20 percent across all noninstructional spending.

A 10 percent cut in state support for primary and secondary education, over FY10/FY11 levels, would be $1.67 billion over the next biennium.

Benson pointed to two previously released reports from the Ohio Smart Schools initiative that recommended steps the state could take to help encourage more efficiency on the local level — which could create additional annual savings of at least $376 million, taking the total potential annual savings to $1.746 billion.

To get at those additional savings, as outlined in the report titled “A Check-up on School Employee Health Care: A Proposal to Reduce Costs Without Reducing Quality,” the state should create statewide or regional purchasing pools so that schools and districts can buy their health insurance together and get a lower cost, which would save up to $138 million a year.

In addition, the state, as outlined in an Ohio Smart Schools report titled “Towards a New Model of Educational Governance for Ohio: Regional Cooperation to Align Education Services,” should provide more regional support to districts through comprehensive Regional Service Agencies that would provide economies of scale and opportunities to share services at lower costs.

The reports are available at www.ohioeducationmatters.org and www.ohiosmartschools.org.