By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron Public Schools spends money more efficiently in non-teaching areas of the budget than the four largest school systems in the state, according to a new report released Tuesday by Ohio Education Matters.
Akron is the district to beat on four out of five categories in the report: student meals, student transportation, central administration and building maintenance and operations.
Cincinnati was the most efficient in building-level administration, according to the public policy think tank, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.
Ohio Education Matters ranked Canton City Schools as the most efficient district among 10 smaller urban schools in student meals, central administration and building-level administration.
Stark County had seven top districts, the most of any Ohio county in the study.
Perry, Plain, Sandy Valley, Lake, Louisville and North Canton also are considered exemplary districts in some of the five categories.
So are Copley-Fairlawn in Summit County, Aurora in Portage County and Southeast in Wayne County.
The report focused on the portion of a district's budget,
about 35 percent, that is spent outside of the classroom, finding that nearly $1.4 billion in state and local dollars could be saved annually statewide if other districts were as efficient as those like Akron and Canton.
Districts throughout the state are worried that Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget, which is due March 15, will included substantial cuts to education to make up for a projected $8 billion shortfall.
''The savings here would be greater than the savings you would get from the [proposed] changes in collective bargaining,'' Ohio Education Matters executive director Andrew Benson said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
He has advised lawmakers to keep cuts away from the classroom and avoid simply cutting all districts across the board.
''What we have said statewide and to the state leaders is that as you're thinking about making cuts in the state budget, you should reward districts that are performing well,'' Benson said. ''So in the case of Akron, we would say the cuts should be less here or Akron should be held harmless in those areas where they're performing well.''
The report includes three policy recommendations to improve efficiencies in spending outside the classroom:
• Create incentives for districts to improve productivity in administration, student transportation, food service and building maintenance.
• Share the best practices of efficient districts with inefficient ones.
• Provide ways for districts to join together regionally to share services and increase their buying power food services, transportation and other non-teaching expenses.