Combining in some way with other South Fork school districts could be expected to save money for East Hampton, according to statistics compiled by a member of the East Hampton Board of Education Citizens Advisory Committee.
Bill Grathwohl, the committee member, was scheduled to present his findings at an East Hampton School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 20. On Monday, accompanied by Susan Naeve, the advisory committee’s co-chair, and Ira Bezoza, another committee member, he gave a synopsis for two reporters.
The committee was formed a little over a year ago to make the district’s budget process more transparent.
Specifically, Mr. Grathwohl undertook a statistical comparison of the East Hampton School District with other Suffolk County school districts that have high schools. The CAC used public data from the 2009-10 (and in one case 2008-2009) New York State Report Cards to compare districts in terms of performance on state tests and Regents placement, student-teacher ratios, student demographics, spending per student and other variables.
Among the findings, according to the CAC:
Spending per pupil tends to be lower in larger districts in Suffolk County.
East Hampton spent approximately 35 percent more per student than an average district of its size (1,000 to 2,000 students), with similar results to East Hampton’s found in Sag Harbor and Southampton.
East Hampton had 12 percent more teachers than districts of comparable size, according to the analysis.
If measured by district average test scores, student performance in Suffolk is not correlated with student/teacher ratios, spending or size, according to the analysis.
Per-student spending could be expected to decrease, on average, by 6 to 11 percent in East Hampton if it were to combine with other districts in some fashion, according to Mr. Grathwohl’s analysis. He predicted a savings of 6 percent in per-pupil costs if it were to combine with its sending districts, a 9-percent savings if it were to combine with all South Fork districts except Southampton and an 11-percent savings if it were to combine with all South Fork districts.
Mr. Grathwohl, who worked for 20 years on Wall Street in quantitative finance, used what he called “regression analysis” to arrive at the comparisons. East Hampton had the third-highest spending per pupil in the county, according to the analysis.
However, because spending varies by size, current “average” spending needs to be adjusted for size, he explained. To do that, he divided average spending (variable costs plus the fixed costs for a district of a certain size) by the number of students.
By that calculation, Mr. Grathwohl said, the average spending in Suffolk for a district of East Hampton’s size would be expected to be $22,735. Actual spending for the year studied in East Hampton was $30,702 per student, 35 percent above the calculated average. It was 30 percent above the calculated average in Southampton and 22 percent above it in Sag Harbor.
Another finding was that per-student spending tends to be “somewhat higher” in districts with higher limited English percentages and higher special education percentages, according to Mr. Grathwohl, who called that data “noisy” but not conclusive.
“Also note East Hampton is not an ‘average’ district,” the report says. “It could possibly save more, or less, from combining.”
The prevailing wisdom has been that the tax rate might go up for East Hampton taxpayers if their school district were combined with, say, that of Springs. Mr. Grathwohl’s analysis looked at spending rather than at the rate of taxation, however.
Mr. Bezoza said it might be a good idea for people to “think outside of the box” with the 2-percent tax cap levy now in play.
“We’re just taking a look at this so that people can begin a conversation,” Dr. Naeve said. “We don’t have a dog in this fight.”