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Does money really matter?

Sidebar by Martha Quillen

Salida School Mill Level Election – November 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

One of the common local debates regarding District R-32-J’s proposed mill levy override revolves around whether money matters. But rather than being conclusive, the answer seems to be… Sometimes.

The CDE report cards show that wealthy school districts in wealthy communities do seem to glean more “excellent” grades than do more modestly financed districts. Not too surprisingly, Boulder High School, Cherry Creek High School, and Aspen High School all received “Excellent” ratings from the CDE. (Whereas not a single school in our ten district sampling received an “excellent” rating.) Average teacher pay in the Aspen 1 District was $45,867 and in the Boulder District it was $50,362.

Yet in our region there seemed to be no relationship between student performance and school spending. Although Florence High School, for example, offered the best average teacher pay, it earned a “low” rating.

And per pupil revenue typically doesn’t mean much. No matter what the source of revenue — be it local taxes, state funds, or private grants — per pupil revenue tended to be highest in the schools with the fewest students. In our ten region survey, Moffat had the most to spend per pupil. But that was almost certainly because Moffat’s entire high school had a mere 50 students — with a senior class of 12. Despite Moffat’s high per pupil revenue, the district’s total revenue was abysmal, and the high school’s rating was low.

Moffat, however, did spend more per pupil than Aspen 1 (Moffat $10,086 to Aspen $8,350).

Total revenue doesn’t matter much, either, unless the total revenue is high for the population of the district. Aspen 1 is about the same size as Salida R-32-J, but its total district revenue was $10,310,340.

Salida’s total revenue was $7,803,987, which was pretty average for our region — and slightly higher than Buena Vista’s. Although Salida got less in taxes than B.V., it got more from the state, more from the feds, and more from state and private grants, but a little less from “other discretionary income” (whatever that may be).

So does money matter?

All in all, when it comes to money, it’s clear that kids from wealthy families who live in prosperous communities tend to do better in school — and their schools tend to do better, too. But that’s the only obvious connection between money and model schools.