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Hamilton Named a Top District, Doing It For Less Taxpayer Money

Although the district spends significantly less per student than others, Milwaukee Magazine ranked the district seventh of 33 in the five-county Milwaukee

On the heels of being named , Sussex has earned another honor — this time by Milwaukee Magazine.

The latest edition of the magazine ranked the the  seventh best school district out of the 33 districts in the five-county Milwaukee region. Mequon-Thiensville snagged the No. 1 spot.

However, what’s most notable is of the top 10 districts, Hamilton is ranked lowest in per-pupil spending. For example, the Shorewood School District  spends more than $12,000 per student and was ranked eighth best. By comparison, Hamilton spends just more than $9,500 per student and fared slightly better in the ranking.

Denise Lindburg, the district’s spokeswoman says she thinks that means Hamilton is putting the taxpayers' money in all the right places by spending less and garnering high achievements.

“Not only are we high as far as student achievement and student learning, but also, if you take a look at the top 10 school districts, we're the lowest spending on a per-pupil basis,” Lindberg said. “For taxpayers in the community, they're seeing a really good return on investment. We're using taxpayer dollars wisely.”

The area districts were ranked on everything from ACT averages to lunch assistance programs. also ranked seventh in the list of top 10 high schools.

“For taxpayers in the community, they're seeing a really good return on investment. We're using taxpayer dollars wisely.”

Mequon-Thiensville and Whitefish Bay communities duked it out for the and best district, but Lindberg says that could be because of the lack of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds of those residents.

“There's a possibility that there's a difference in community composition in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds in those higher achieving districts,” Lindberg said. “We would need to look at income level, education level, and that sort of thing. Hamilton is a really balanced community. We have affluent areas, middle class areas and pockets of poverty.”

Superintendent Kathleen Cooke said during Monday night’s School Board meeting that she was happy to be providing one of the top 10 school districts at a value to taxpayers. During the same meeting it was announced  

Steve ® March 22, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Take note Me no monee Falls
Jann March 22, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Steve: This has been pointed out several times and the Falls school board just keeps coming up with excuses as to why this is. Germantown gets a very high ranking in the magazine article too and they also spend less per student then the Falls.
Andy Ambrosius (Editor) March 22, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Why do you think that is?
Jann March 22, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Andy, if you are asking why the Falls school board keeps making excuses, I have no answer for that. As to why Sussex and Germantown spend less per pupil could have several reasons. At the top of the list would be exactly what is pointed out in the article and that is using taxpayer dollars wisely. Menomonee Falls keeps crying that they don't have enough when really I think they are over spenders that have been doing it for quite some time.
Andy Ambrosius (Editor) March 22, 2012 at 03:02 PM
@Jann: "If you are asking why the Falls school board keeps making excuses, I have no answer for that." Hahahaha! Strong words! I asked the MF Patch editor the other day if he was planning on doing a story about why the district placed 18th, and he didn't know if he was or wasn't.
Jann March 22, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Andy: It would be a good time for such an article since we have a heated school board race on right now. It's not just the 18th place that gets me it's the fact that we are 18th and they are spending more per student than neighboring communities. There's a problem somewhere.
Bert March 22, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Wonder if it has anything to do with the $19M Hamilton gets from the state versus $12M for MF... http://www.hamilton.k12.wi.us/facts-and-figures/financial-data To get to equivalent $/student figure, MF would need to cut $5.6M on top of the 6% cuts last year, including more than $3M cut to the Instruction budget, and a 10% cut to special education. Here's a link to the MFSD budget. Where do you recommend the district cut another $5.6M, in a way that will also increase student performance? http://board-of-education.sdmf.schoolfusion.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/gwp/1506175/1479193/File/budget/2011-12%20Adopted%20Budget%20-%2010-24-11.pdf?sessionid=c1f4158c6d1cb1385de96d5c38d658af I'm hearing some candidates bashing the board for not cutting. Before voting, I'd really like to know what programs those in favor of slashing the budget want to eliminate. Please indicate which budget line item and amount.
Jann March 22, 2012 at 07:15 PM
If there is NO way of doing this, then why has the board never bothered to attempt to explain this to anyone when asked? There's always room to cut something. I'd be all for implementing a way to give certain teachers no raises if they don't deserve it. That can't come soon enough. The point is, Falls has the money they need, but test scores are not among the best in the area. Anyone reading the article in Milwaukee magazine would be crazy to move to the Falls over Sussex or Germantown if they have children in the public schools.
Bert March 22, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Who have you asked? In addition to the bi-weekly open board meetings, it looks to me like the board has a bunch of other meetings open to the public. There was a board round table just this week. I admit I don't make it to many of these, so I can't say one way or another whether they stonewall these questions or not. Regarding the Milwaukee magazine article, it looks like we spend less than Cudahy, St. Francis, and our neighbor Brown Deer, and we totally beat them hands down! Of course, by your argument, why would anyone move to Sussex or Germantown when Mequon clearly has better schools? Finally, is it the case that all those schools ranked higher according to Milwaukee Magazine's (undisclosed) ranking algorithm use performance-based pay for their teachers, and thus do better? I don't know the answer to this, but if that's true then we should certainly consider it. BTW, did you know that the MF school district has, in fact, moved to performance based evaluation of teachers as a part of the latest contract? Maybe that will help!
Bert March 22, 2012 at 08:39 PM
There's also another explanation for the low "per pupil" expenses - enrollment growth. Most of a school district's expenses are "fixed", in that one additional student or one less student doesn't really change the overall cost for the districts. In places were enrollment is growing, the expense per student will be lower (for a while) due to the fact that the expenses for that district are based around a smaller student population. You'd also see evidence of this in an increasing student - teacher ratio. Eventually, the district has to spend more to keep up with growth. Conversely, in a district with falling enrollment, it takes time shed structural costs associated with a larger student population. Eventually, districts with falling enrollment need to do things like consolidating schools, divesting property, etc. Naturally, expenses per student will be higher as these expenses lag the enrollment decline. It's literally impossible to resize the district every year to meet changes in enrollment. One more thing. Test scores and spending are on completely different time scales. Investments made this year likely won't impact test scores for several years to come. Similarly, budget cuts will not show up in test scores for a few years down the road. Looking at a test score / budget 'snapshot' implies a false connection between the two data points.
Jann March 22, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Bert: Yes, I'm aware that Falls will now be able to implement a system of pay for performance. It is NOT in place yet and all the current candidates are not sure how they will implement it. I think a lot of people would indeed move to Mequon if they could afford a home there. The school tax is higher, but I guess they get what they pay for. The same with Brookfield. Are we getting what we pay for in Menomonee Falls? It seems to me that we are not. Germantown and Sussex obviously stand out to me because they are right next door. As a matter of fact, my house is located almost as close to Germantown High School as it is the Falls and Sussex is just a little bit farther. If my children were young I may consider open enrollment. Our enrollment is going down in the Falls and one of the school board candidates pointed out that it needs to go up. I would prefer to see the enrollment go up because our schools are great and people want to move here. Not because of students transfering in one way or another. Right now Sussex enrollment is on the incline (approx. 500-600 student gain since 2001) and they are still getting better test scores with less dollars per student.
Jann March 22, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Bert: I forgot to answer your question about who I've asked. I will be honest, it wasn't me but another taxpayer has asked SEVERAL times why Falls costs are higher per student with worse scores. No direct answer - so he keeps asking. It gets sickening after a while and I've not attended much recently. You get no answers/satisfaction. I can get a lot of info of the internet now because meetings etc. are recorded. Why sit through two hours of that crap for no good answers.
Bert March 23, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Jann, so I understand, you're angry that no one has answered a question you never asked? Are you quite sure this friend of yours who claims to have asked this question isn't doing the same thing you did, which is to claim he or she asked but never did? Another thing - you're question is incredibly nebulous. Why are our test scores lower if cost per student is higher. First, our cost per student is lower than half of the top ten. It's also lower than the three schools ranked dead last. As I mentioned, the one-year snapshot of cost / student and test outcomes are completely unrelated, and even looking at these variables over time only gives you a slight correlation. You might also note that the magazine article looks at another factor in terms of judging school performance - percentage of students receiving school lunch benefits (a proxy for income level). There are only two schools in the top ten with a higher percentage than MF, and both spend more per student than MF does. It's not a stretch to say that the MF school district is more economically diverse than Sussex, Mequon, and even Germantown. Studies have routinely found a high correlation between income level and school performance. (Note that the bottom three districts all have significantly higher percentages of lunch program participants.) This is not meant to disparage lower income kids, or offer an excuse for performance, but it is a factual difference between the districts.
Bert March 23, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Regarding getting your questions answered, why don't you give it a shot? Go to the finance meeting if you want to know what is going on with the budget, or the curriculum meeting if you want to know what's happening there. I haven't been to any of the committee meetings nor the round table, but it would seem the round table is specifically for community questions. The district admins and board members all post email addresses as well. If you send an email and don't get a satisfactory response, you've got something specific to talk about in a forum like this.
Jann March 23, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Bert: I pointed out on a different blog for the Patch that we "won" the subsidized lunch column over Sussex and Germantown. I don't think a lot of the students receiving this are taking the Act tests and AP classes which Falls also is lower than Sussex and Germantown on. This person you refer to as "my friend" has never met me. The school board meetings are shown on cable tv and quotes are shown in the paper. He indeed has asked the question. You seem to be new to the blogs, but many of us have been doing it for quite some time now and come up with the same questions and thoughts about not getting a proper response. I have a feeling you work for the schools.
Bert March 27, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Jann, I don't work for the schools. I am new to the patch thing. However, I do have first hand experience with the schools as a parent of two elementary students, and I do read up on items that interest me with respect to the schools. I also once did a study on rankings of MBA programs, which gave me a pretty strong sense of suspicion when anyone tries to "rank" things like academic programs. For starters, I have not seen any evidence to support the notion that MF schools are substantially worse than other similar nearby areas. I've been quite happy with the teachers and administrators we've dealt with at our kids' school. I can't talk to the middle or high schools yet. Again, I suspect the only appreciable difference in "performance" between Hamilton and MF stems from the % of low-income kids, who have a lot more stuff in their way to achieve what their middle class classmates achieve. Similarly, I've not heard a single person offer any solutions, other than to pay our teachers less. Are we looking to move UP in the rankings, or simply to move DOWN in expenses? Finally, as I've mentioned, it seems that actually participating in the various committees that the board runs, would be a far more fruitful endeavor than griping on an internet forum. If you do ask questions of the board, post the response. I'd be happy to see real facts behind the complaints.

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