At Old Orchard Beach Schools, performance down and costs are up

RSU 23 Superintendent John Suttie speaks at the start of the November 29, 2018 RSU 23 Board meeting. Photo from Old Orchard Beach public live video stream.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – As the local school budget committee starts work a new budget for Old Orchard Beach’s RSU 23, state school performance data shows the district’s test performance is lagging far behind state expectations but per-student costs far exceed most school districts in the state.

Recently released state test data show only 44% of RSU 23 students meeting or exceeding state expectations in English/Language Arts/Literacy.

A dismal 23% of RSU 23 students meet or exceed state expectations in mathematics, and the district’s highest marks come in science where 47% of students meet or exceed state expectations.

As a matter of comparison, the district’s scores trail Saco’s scores in all three categories by significant margins, with Saco outperforming Old Orchard Beach by 10 points in English/Language Arts/Literacy; nearly 18 points in mathematics and 13 points in science.

In a comparison to Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach slightly outperforms Biddeford students in English/Language Arts/Literacy by a margin of 3 percentage points but Old Orchard Beach lags behind Biddeford in science by 3 percentage points of students at or above state expectations, and it lags Biddeford by 6 percent of students meeting or exceeding state expectations in science.

The one area where Old Orchard Beach does put up a higher number than other schools in the region is per-student costs.

Per-student operating costs for RSU 23 according to the most recent state financial data, are $15,259. This means the cost per-student in Old Orchard Beach is nearly 40% higher than the cost per-student in Biddeford ($10,973) and almost 30% higher than the cost per-student in Saco ($11,849).

Some local Old Orchard Beach taxpayers have already expressed concern with what appear to be plans to advance some administrators in RSU 23 to higher paid positions while teachers have not been given a raise in several years and last year’s graduating seniors still have not even received their high school yearbooks.

While pay raises and promotions for administrators could be fraught with political peril if perceived to be at the expense of teachers, school committee members also will have to justify any spending increases while explaining how previously high per-student spending have clearly not produced the results taxpayers would expect.

At the very least, Old Orchard Beach voters are likely to be asking questions about why Thornton Academy in Saco can offer a measurably better level of performance for students at a tuition cost of $12,500 for high school students, compared to the per-student operating cost of $17,308 for high school students in RSU 23.


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