Marcellus schools low spending, solid results

Establishing priorities and making choices

By Andrea Morabito

This spring Marcellus Senior High School will play host to its first home track meet in 10 years, thanks to a new athletic stadium. The updated track is just part of the ongoing capital building project, marking the first large investment in a long time in this fiscally conservative community.

"If you look at how much capital we've deployed in Marcellus versus other districts, it pales in comparison," said Donald Keegan, board of education president.

But the capital project's budget will again go before voters this May because unforeseen costs and growing inflation means the $22.9 million approved in 2004 will fall short of what's needed to finish the renovations.

The district could not spend much on architectural engineering costs until voters approved the project. Then administrators did not discover the additional costs until after the budget passed, Keegan said. This and the rising costs of steel, energy and insurance require voters to again approve spending more money.

"Things we thought would cost one price are going to cost a lot more than we originally expected," he said.

But in New York state, where taxes are already high, people are resistant to increases in the school budget, Keegan said. And as a small rural community, Marcellus has always been on the more frugal side. Marcellus has the third-lowest expenditure per pupil average of Onondaga County schools, according to data from the 2003-04 school year. At $9,413, Marcellus spends more per pupil than only the Lyncourt (which feeds its high-school-aged students into the Solvay district) and Tully school districts.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Despite modest spending, Marcellus' test scores are comparable to those of Fayetteville-Manlius, Skaneateles and Westhill, the strongest performing districts at the secondary level in 2003-04. In 2006, Marcellus students scored an average of 534 on the verbal SAT and 555 on the math. Westhill averaged 533 verbal and 561 math. Skaneateles students scored 570 verbal and 574 math. Fayetteville-Manlius reported a 563 verbal and 598 math average.

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