The biggest difference between high-spending districts and low-spending districts is teachers, mainly what they’re paid but also their relative numbers.
That finding in a December 2002 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office is illustrated by a comparison of two elementary school districts in Cook County: north suburban Glencoe District 35, which spends $10,935 per pupil, and south suburban Midlothian District 143, which spends $6,584 per pupil.
The comparison also illustrates one of the consequences of Illinois’ high reliance on property taxes to fund schools. Glencoe, an affluent community with few minorities, has a lower tax rate than does Midlothian, a middle-income, mixed-race community.
In property wealth per student, Glencoe ranks 20th among the county’s 115 elementary districts while Midlothian ranks 21st from the bottom.
With higher salaries and higher reimbursement for college courses, Glencoe has been able to build a better educated teaching force. It also can provide smaller classes. And it has more specialists in such areas as art, music, technology and foreign language.
Midlothian Superintendent Michael Hollingsworth said that if the district had more money, he would hire more teachers. “Lowering class sizes would be a must,” he says. “But to lower class size, you need building space, and our building space is very limited.”
He also would boost teacher salaries to improve hiring and retention and offer more tuition reimbursement for courses that teachers take.
“We’re constantly losing good people to other districts, especially to high schools,” he says. But he and his administrative staff have worked to appeal to teachers in other ways, for example, by opening a daycare center in a district building that is largely occupied by a nine-district special education cooperative.
In the area of capital spending, he would add cafeterias to the district’s schools and increase gym space so the district would not need a state waiver exempting it from the requirement that physical education be offered five days per week.
Glencoe Superintendent Cathlene Crawford also can testify to the difference that money makes in recruitment. “We have lost candidates that we wanted to hire because our salary was not competitive with our neighbors,” she says.
However, district Business Manager Ron Chilcote notes that the district generally is in good shape when it comes to hiring. “People gravitate to this area from other parts of the state,” he notes.