Evansville students review district's financial performance

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Saturday, June 5, 2010
— How do you educate the public on a budget when there’s just no money to do it?

The Evansville Community School District has an answer: Turn pupils into the teachers.

After poring through stacks of data and crafting layouts from scratch, 19 juniors and seniors from an advanced placement accounting class crafted a simplified, accessible overview of the district’s finances and performance.

The report for 2008-09 breaks down district expenses and revenue, teacher-student ratios, enrollment and graduation rates, average WKCE and ACT scores and cost per student. It also compares performance data to other state school districts.

The idea came from Evansville School Board member Eric Busse, who also is the regional vice president of the Association of Government Accountants. The association recently launched the “citizen-centric reports” project designed to break down lengthy and nebulous government data into simple, easy-to-read overviews.

Busse pitched the idea of having teacher Dana Hurda and her class take on the project as a real-world learning opportunity.

Hurda recognized how essential her students were to crafting the report.

“It would have (cost) thousands of dollars, because we would have paid a consultant to come in and meet with (administrators) separately and they would have had to hire people to analyze the data,” Hurda said. “This isn’t something that we would have ever been able to do without the students working on this.”

While students made a point to find out where the fees they paid for parking were going, they gained a wider perspective on district budget cuts—especially in regard to special education.

“I think a lot of us thought maybe it was something with our school district that we didn’t agree with,” said Carly Hutchins, a senior in Hurda’s class. “But when we laid it out we thought it was mostly laws, whether or not we agreed with it.”

Not only are the students the only group in Wisconsin to produce such a report, they’re also the first high school group in the country to take on the task.

Busse said the real benefit is that the report serves an educational purpose outside of the classroom.

“They learned how to do this in a way that was not just accounting jargon,” Busse said. “It’s being put in a form where you could hand this out to someone down the street and that person can see where their tax dollars are going.”

Administrators plan to publish the report on the district’s website and make copies available for pickup.

Last updated: 2:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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