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Data gives context to OCS financial efficiency

Oconee taxpayer Pam Hendrix told the Board of Education last month that she wanted to understand spending per student in Oconee County Schools and how it has changed over time.

She said her goal was frustrated by errors in calculations of Per Pupil Expenditures in the 2022-23 Annual Re-port Oconee County Schools had sent to mailboxes in the county in July.

That report states that OCS is “No. 1 in Financial Efficiency in Georgia” and “No. 1 Statewide Financial Efficiency.”

Board Member Michael Ransom told Hendrix after the meeting that the calculation in the report is inaccurate, seeming to negate the claim in two places in the 2022-23 Annual Report that OCS is the most efficient in the state in terms of Per Pupil Expenditure. The math proves that OCS spends more per student than at least one of four nearby school systems.

A detailed analysis of both local and state data shows that OCS did receive a Five Star Financial Efficiency rating based on standardized measures of student performance and per pupil spend-ing in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019–the only years for which the state ratings are available.

[Editor’s note: Although the 2022-23 Annual Report did not disclose that the No. 1 Financial Efficiency rating from the state is based on data going back to 2019, OCS maintains its calculations are correct because it factors in both per pupil expenditures and academic achievements of students. “The 2022-23 Annual Report is reflective of the district’s performance and achievement. Oconee County Schools has a commitment to accountability, transparency and dissemination of accurate information,” OCS Director of Communications Steven Colquitt told the editor of The Oconee Enterprise. “The Annual Report provides the community with a comprehensive understanding of the district’s accomplishments, utilizing the most updated data available at the time of publication.]

However, according to an independent analysis, OCS actually ranked eighth in the state simply in terms of standardized Per Pupil Expenditure in 2022 and 55th in terms of standardized state and local Per Pupil Expenditure.

The analysis also shows that simple Per Pupil Expenditure increased by 17.5 percent from Fiscal Year 2023 to Fiscal Year 2024, but that was a year in which the legislature increased state funding through the Qualify Basic Education formula by 13.0 percent and OCS opened its new Dove Creek Middle School.

Across the last 10 years, however, OCS has spent more per student each year than would have been required to keep up with inflation, and spending in Fiscal Year 2024 per student was$2,190 above what would have been required simply to offset the effects of inflation.

Hendrix, a Watkinsville attorney who unsuccessfully ran in 2010 for Superior Court Judge in the Western Judicial Circuit and for Tax Commissioner in 2012, told the BOE at its meeting on Nov. 6 that the figures in the 2022-23 Annual Report didn’t make sense to her.

For the complete story, see the December 14, 2023 edition of The Oconee Enterprise. Subscribe today!

Lee Becker is a retired jour-nalism professor and resident of Oconee County. A longer version of this story originally appeared on his blog, oconeecountyobservations.org.

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