Duval County’s public school system isn’t as top-heavy as many people think and its lowest-performing elementary schools have the lowest-performing teachers, according to preliminary reports from an outside consultant.
Massachusetts-based nonprofit Education Resource Strategies looked at how the Duval County Public Schools district spends its money compared with other large urban districts. The first two reports, which the School Board will discuss at a workshop on Tuesday, covered school funding and elementary schools.
Doug Ayars, Duval’s chief operating officer, said the goal of the report was to improve instruction for students.
“In the end, what we want to know and find is that we’re using the resources we have the best possible way to move kids forward,” Ayars said. “The bottom line is are we doing everything we can to make sure that money’s being optimized?”
Ayars said the reports will help the district set goals for its strategic plan.
The report said 77 percent of Duval’s operating expenditures are spent at the school level, one of the highest percentages the organization has seen.
“It makes me feel very good that we’re minimizing our administrative cost and maximizing our instructional cost,” said W.C. Gentry, School Board chairman.
The report also contradicted a frequent criticism of the district: that it’s top-heavy with administrators.
Duval spends 6 percent of its pre-K-12 operating dollars on leadership and central operations management, according to the report. In comparison, districts in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta spend 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively, on management.
“It says to us that we have some pretty exceptional managers,” Ayars said.
The report also revealed dramatic differences in the average teacher salary between some schools. For example, the average teacher salary at Andrew Jackson High School is slightly more than $35,000; Fletcher’s average teacher salary is about $50,000.
The report on elementary schools also noted that the district’s “lowest performing schools in Duval have the lowest performing teachers; the district must work to shift this distribution.”
“Your novice teachers are disproportionately in the urban schools, and that’s something this report and this work is revealing,” said Phil Mobley, Duval’s director of strategic planning and programming.
Ayars said those findings would need more discussion to learn about trends and reasons for that dynamic.
The report looked at the percentage of new teachers and the percentage of teachers receiving bonuses from the Merit Award Program to gauge performance. ERS said it would revisit teacher effectiveness in a future report.
Terrie Brady, president of Duval Teachers United, could not be reached for comment on the report’s findings.
Another key finding was that Duval is spending almost $3,000 more per student in 17 of its smallest elementary schools than in 11 of its largest elementary schools.
Ayars said that will be something the district and School Board will have to address as they look to balance cost savings with the academic benefits of having small schools.
ERS will produce a total of six reports, including looking at middle schools, high schools and human capital. The audit is costing the district $550,000, with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund kicking in $100,000 and raising an additional $100,000.
When the Times-Union sought to ask follow-up questions about the reports, district staff members were told by Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals not to speak about the reports until the School Board was given its presentation on Tuesday, said district spokeswoman Jill Johnson.
JPEF was also asked by Pratt-Dannals not to speak about the reports until the presentation.