DOBSON — The Surry County school system ranks fourth in the state in a new study examining how productive educational districts have been with the funding available to each.
County residents are getting a good return on their public school investment, according to the study by the Center for American Progress. It recently updated a similar analysis in 2011, which had arisen from concerns that low productivity was costing school systems billions nationwide and there were few tracking mechanisms to measure how well educational dollars were spent.
Surry County is one of only 13 school districts in North Carolina — out of 115 in all — to receive a ranking of “1,” which means it has been high-achieving with lower levels of funding.
In the actual rankings for that, Union County schools lead, ahead of No. 2 Davie County, Mooresville City and Surry County schools at No. 4. Burke County Public Schools round out the top five.
In addition to factors such as per-pupil spending — which was $8,177 in 2011 — the results are based on an “achievement index” that lists the percentages of students designated as proficient or above on state assessments in reading and math in fourth grade, eighth grade and high school.
Surry’s achievement levels exceed the state averages in all six of those categories, according to the latest figures available as reported by the Center for American Progress.
The local system, which has about 8,400 students spread over 19 campuses, is considered a “Rural: Distant” school district in the study.
That is a Census-defined rural territory that is more than five miles but less than or equal to 25 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10 miles from an urban cluster.
Both Mount Airy and Elkin schools are ranked in the medium productivity category in the study.
Funding allocations and test scores are one thing, but leaders of the county board of education say the No. 4 productivity ranking comes down to the human factor.
“I just can’t say enough about our teachers and our personnel — that’s what makes a difference in the Surry County Schools,” board Vice Chairman Clark Goings said in reaction to the study. Goings pointed out that Surry has avoided teacher layoffs and other drastic steps undertaken by some systems which have been forced by the bad economy.
While some positions have gone unfilled after retirements or other departures and allowed reductions through natural attrition, the local system has not “had to let anyone go because of a shortage of money,” he said.
Both Goings and Earlie Coe, the school board chairman, also were quick to credit the staff of Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves at the central office in Dobson and other administrators for spending wisely and getting the best results from the resources available.
“We’ve got some very good administrators who take care of our money,” Coe said. “They don’t go out and buy everything that comes down the tracks as far as technology.” Those who manage the day-to-day operations of schools do spend money for certain additions from time to time, but are selective in doing so, the chairman said.
“We really do get a good bang for the buck with some of the programs they’re bringing in,” Coe added.
Goings also credited the efforts of the superintendent and his assistants in the central office, along with the finance officer for county schools, as one of the chief reasons for the ranking.
“We’ve got some good board members, but they advise us and we research it,” Goings said of the staff in Dobson and the team effort fostered among all decision-makers. “But I would say it would come down to the people at the county office.”
Coe further believes those who ultimately control the county purse strings are partly responsible for the success.
“I’m going to have to give part of the credit to the commissioners,” the school board chairman said. “They have gone above and beyond in helping us.”
While per-pupil expenditures dipped in recent years, the $8,177 figure from 2011 has gradually risen in the time since. For the present fiscal year the local funding per pupil is $1,090 — which reflects a decision by the commissioners to up the county’s per-pupil allocation by $15 per student, as requested by superintendents, from $1,075 initially proposed.
“The last two years, they’ve given us a little bit more — they’ve really partnered well,” Coe said of the commissioners.
“I’m very proud of the ranking,” added the school board chairman, who appreciates the hard work at all levels which made it possible.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.