New Jersey often ranks at the top of state rankings for how much it spends on public education — roughly $18,000 per student.
And schools in New Jersey’s own top ranks can lay out as much per pupil as the equivalent of private school tuition.
Still, there’s usually a reason for the steep spending.
For instance, any list of New Jersey’s highest-spending schools is always heavy on the very smallest elementary school districts — especially from the Shore. Crowded with families during the summer, these towns shrink when the fun and sun ends, leaving far fewer families — and sometimes as few as 100 students — and schools that still need to be staffed adequately for each grade.
The state’s big-spending lists also always include a few so-called Abbott districts, the high-poverty urban districts targeted under the state Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke rulings. These 31 districts have received considerably more state aid to cover the extra costs of serving students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
And the last big group encompasses the state’s vocational districts, once seen a stepchild in the public education system but now home to many of New Jersey’s highest-performing schools.
Following is the Top 10 Spending List, compiled on the most recent data released by the state, based on the 2012-2013 budgetary costs per pupil. These figures cover general fund and operating costs, and do not include pensions paid by the state, and also exclude certain capital and legal costs not uniform among districts.
1. $43,520 — Avalon
This tiny one-school district has been on the highest-spending lists for years. With just 100 students, it has student-to-teacher ratio under 5:1. A couple of years ago, it merged administration and programs with neighboring Stone Harbor (#2), while keeping local governance.
2. $29,953 — Stone Harbor
After Hurricane Sandy, Stone Harbor’s lone school was forced to close for repairs, and its 70 students attended Avalon until March.
3. $27,238 — Asbury Park
Asbury Park schools are often held up by critics as the poster child for what they describe as the excesses of the Abbott v. Burke ruling. It has by far the highest spending of the 31 Abbott districts — and historically has been one of the lowest performing.
4. $26,927 — Bergen County Vo-Tech
Vocational school districts are always on these lists, because of their specialized fields of study. The booming expansion of new selective career academies have especially made their mark. Bergen County’s district is among the state’s largest and most extensive vocational districts, with more than 2,000 students. Passaic is the largest, with more than 3,000 students and would have been ranked 15th on this list.
5. $25,590 — Somerset Vo-Tech
Somerset’s vocational program, with 500 students reported in 2012-13, is among the state’s smallest. It is also one of the ones that most recently started county-wide “career magnets.”
6. $24,529 – Alpine
Alpine is the Avalon of the north, with just 200 students and perennial mention in the highest-spending lists. It is also one of the richest communities in the state, helping to ease the price tag on the tax bill.
7. $23,828 — Washington Township
The one school in this Burlington County district has just 85 students — and a student-teacher ratio of 8:1.
8. $22,819 — Beach Haven Borough
Another Shore town, with just 70 students in its one school, it was also forced to close for repairs after Hurricane Sandy, and students and staff attended Eagleswood until Beach Haven Elementary School was ready to reopen this fall.
9. $22,639 – Hoboken
Another Abbott district, Hoboken’s average teacher salary of $77,000 last year was one of the highest among comparably sized districts.
10. $21,961 — Long Beach Island
Next-door to Beach Haven, the LBI Consolidated District is the result of a merger of schools in four different communities that have all seen their enrollments shrink. Even so, it still has only 250 students in the K-6 district’s two schools.