Smaller NEMO school districts shine in state reports

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 27, 2017 8:30 am Updated: Nov. 27, 2017 8:38 am

In the deluge of statistics emerging from the latest state reports involving a dozen school districts in Northeast Missouri, one trend seems to be clear: Smaller schools are at the head of the class.

That seems to be the case when comparing school district "report cards" and "annual performance reports" for 2017 issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The smallest school district in Northeast Missouri -- Marion County R-2 in Philadelphia, with 210 students -- not only had the smallest equalized assessed valuation at $15.6 million, but its average teacher salary was among the lowest in the region at $38,430.

However, Marion County R-2 scored the highest of any district in Northeast Missouri on the annual performance report, or APR, which measures districts in academic achievement, college and career readiness, attendance, graduation rate and achievement by subgroups, such as students with disabilities, logging 138 out of a possible 138 points.

Meanwhile, the Hannibal School District -- the largest district in nine Northeast Missouri counties -- scored 117 points out of a possible 140 on the annual performance report, down from its 2016 score of 83.9 percent.

DESE guidelines say that any school district that scores 90 percent or better on the APR is considered to be accredited "with distinction." Eight of the 12 districts in Northeast Missouri received this honor. In addition to Marion County R-2, they were North Shelby (99.3 percent), Scotland County R-1 (98.9), Canton R-5 (97.5), Lewis County C-1 (97.1), Palmyra R-1 (96.8), Knox County R-1 (94.6) and Monroe City R-1 (92.1).

Districts that score between 70 and 89.9 percent on the APR are considered to be simply accredited. NEMO districts falling into this category were Clark County R-2 (89.6 percent), Shelby County R-4 (87.9), Louisiana R-2 (85.7) and Hannibal (83.6).

Low dropout rates

Scotland County R-1 School District ranked among the highest-scoring districts on the APR, even though its average teacher and administrator salaries are the lowest in Northeast Missouri, coming in at $34,606 and $68,980, respectively.

The district, with 578 students, also recorded the highest composite ACT score in Northeast Missouri at 21.2, a review of 2017 report cards showed.

Scotland County joined three other districts -- Canton, North Shelby and Monroe City -- in having the lowest dropout rate in Northeast Missouri: Zero.

Scotland County accomplished all of this while having the second-lowest tax rate of all school districts in Northeast Missouri at $3.50 per $100 assessed valuation. The only district with a lower tax rate was Lewis County C-1 at $3.43.

"All that data makes it look like we're doing a pretty good job," said Ryan Bergeson, Scotland County's superintendent for the past 11 years.

Bergeson said even though his district doesn't have a lot of money to work with, it tries to do the most with what it has.

"Prioritizing and living within our means has been a hallmark of the last several years here in the district," he said.

Bergeson also feels the district is blessed with a talented, dedicated teaching staff that does a great job even though the district's pay scale is the lowest in the region.

"I think anytime you see good results, you see good people in place. And we've got a lot of great staff members that do a great job with our kids," he said. "Regardless of the situation or pay, they do they best they can."

The Scotland R-1 School Board would like to pay teachers and administrators more, but that's tough to do "based on our low tax rate and available revenue," Bergeson said.

"Our School Board is very supportive of our staff and administration and they would love to give us more, but they have to work within their means," he said.

Tax rates

Lewis County C-1 scored in the top five on the APR in Northeast Missouri, even though its tax rate, $3.43, is the lowest of all 12 districts. That low tax rate, however, is offset somewhat by having the fifth-highest EAV in the region at $82.1 million.

Superintendent John French said the district's low tax rate has been a hindrance because it has forced the district to remain in a "conserve mode" for the past few years.

"We have cut positions from the Central Office, we've cut bus routes, we've cut classroom teachers," he said. "That comes from having that lower tax rate."

French said the low rate is the result of an odd set of circumstances. After the Enbridge pipeline project was completed across several counties in 2014, Lewis County's assessed valuation rose by 32 percent. However, this forced the district to lower its property tax rate to comply with Missouri's Hancock Amendment, which prevents taxing bodies from receiving windfall gains if certain assessments rise sharply.

In an effort help address the complicated assessment situation, the district asked voters in 2016 to establish the district's tax levy at $3.43, which replaced the previous established rate of $3.61 set in 2005. By taking that action, the district helped stem the loss of even more tax revenue. But French is hoping the Missouri General Assembly will pass legislation to create a more permanent solution to this "loophole" situation.

Some other observations from a review of the school report cards:

Louisiana R-2 had the highest percentage of students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches based on family income with a rate of 69.2 percent. Knox County was second-highest at 61.3 percent. Six other NEMO districts also had rates higher than the state average of 51.2 percent.

Palmyra R-1 had the lowest percent of kids eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at 33.8 percent. North Shelby was second-lowest at 35.9 percent.

Louisiana R-2 had the largest minority enrollment, considering 80.7 percent of the district's students were white, 7.5 percent Hispanic and 7.1 percent black. Marion R-2, with an enrollment 99.5 percent white, had the fewest minorities.

Louisiana R-2 had the highest dropout rate at 3 percent. Shelby County R-4 came in second at 2.2 percent. Those were the only districts in Northeast Missouri above the state average of 2.1 percent.

Lewis County C-1 had the highest percentage of gifted students at 5 percent, but it also had the lowest composite score on the ACT at 18.4.

Clark County R-1 had the highest student-teacher ratio at 20 students for each teacher. Marion County had the lowest ratio at 12 students for each teacher.

Clark County R-1 had the highest student-administrator ratio at 210 students for each administrator. North Shelby had the lowest ratio at 96 students for each administrator.

Monroe City R-1 had the highest tax rate at $4.2464 per $100 assessed valuation. The state average was $4.10.

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