During the budget workshop last Thursday night, Interim Superintendent of Schools Mark Winzler explained that the amount of money that the town is spending on each student in town has dropped by about $1,500 over the past ten years.
Winzler told the Town Council that Rocky Hill is ranked 122 out 166 schools in the state when it comes to the per pupil expenditure. Rocky Hill spends about $12,656 per student, which is less than the state average of $14,163. The town has dropped 50 spots since 2001 when Rocky Hill was ranked 72.
The goal of per pupil expenditure is to make sure what the town is “expending for education is totally congruent with the wealth and the ability to pay in the community,” Winzler said. He added the wealth of the community has not changed over the past ten years, but the amount being spent on education per student has decreased.
The information presented by the interim superintendent upset several councilors including Joe Kochanek. He said he felt that only 10 percent of residents in town knew how much was being spent per pupil.
“And it wasn’t an issue. We had other issues,” Kochanek said. “When we start putting information out in front of people and not explaining ourselves, I think that is more detrimental than trying to accomplish something.”
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Councilor Barbara Swrillo pointed out that recent the Mastery and CAPT test scores of Rocky Hill students are above the state average and many of the town in its reference group. She said she felt the numbers were misleading on per pupil expenditures because the bigger cities spend more money on education than the suburbs.
“We are doing beautifully with test scores and way better than in the state. And in some cases, we are better than our reference group,” Swrillo said. “We are careful with taxpayers' dollars on the council and board side.”
She added that she felt the town is doing something right, not wrong. A point echoed by Councilor Cathy Vargas.
“If we are spending less and they are still doing well on their tests, kudos to the teachers for doing that,” she said. In the presentation, Vargas wanted test scores next to the data on the per pupil expenditures.
Winzler said higher per pupil expenditures does not necessarily lead to higher test scores. For example, he said that in Windsor where Winzler was an assistant superintendent, it had the highest per pupil expenditures, but that did not translate to the best test scores. In Watertown where Winzler was an interim superintendent, he said per pupil expenditures and test scores were not in line.
These numbers do not directly impact property values, however Winzler, said people potentially moving into Rocky Hill might not look past the town’s rank.
“My point was as an outsider, a person coming here to live in your community may not delve behind your rank,” Winzler said.
Councilor Larrye deBear, who he felt Winzler provided “new eyes” for the town, asked the superintendent's opinion on the correlation of how much Rocky Hill is spending on education and the grades and test scores of students.
“Given the materials that were allocated, I think that the board of Ed and town has down a really terrific job,” Winzler said.
However, with rising state and federal mandates, the teachers are going to eventually “cry uncle,” Winzler said and added that more staffing was needed to help alleviate those teaching Rocky Hill students.
“I think unless this board and this town provide enough funds to provide additional personnel, I think you might see a decline.” Winzler said.
He said for variety reasons, the students need the stability provided by the school system and teachers and learn better in smaller groups.
“Our kids need more seat time with adults,” Winzler said. He also suggested Rocky Hill schools as well as every school in the state need to have as much technology as possible. And currently, Rocky Hill is “not wired” with enough of it.
“That is the world that kids live in and that is the way that they learn,” Winzler said.