The Cost of Educating Higher Performing Students

As I have written recently on the "Wareham Matters" Facebook page, I can't speak highly enough of Michael MacMillan, the Business Manager at Wareham Public Schools.  His reports are outstanding and he has gone out of his way to research concerns that I have had - even though I am no longer on the School Committee.  He doesn't have to do this, but I am grateful that he does.

What follows is one such report that he sent me over a month ago.  I am publishing it publicly at this time with his permission, as I feel that there is still a real disconnect in the community regarding how much bang for the buck we truly do get for these programs.

Enjoy and Please Feel Free to Share,
Mike Flaherty

From: "Mike Flaherty"

Date: Feb 6, 2017
Subject: The cost of educating higher performing students?
To: "Michael MacMillan"
Cc: "Kimberly Shaver-Hood", "Scott W Palladino", "Geoff Swett", "Andrea Schwamb"

Hi Michael,

I'd like to follow up on a discussion we had regarding the cost to fund programs at Wareham that are geared toward educating those students who tend to excel.

Sometimes I hear folks refer to these students as the "Elites", and that funding these programs is siphoning funds from those students who struggle, and especially Special Ed programs.

While I have long been concerned that we could do more for those who tend to struggle, my impression is that the funding of programs such as Advanced Placement courses, Dual Enrollment  (8th grade), and International Baccalaureate is only marginally more than if we didn't offer these programs at all.  In fact, I believe that the other Dual Enrollment arrangement with Bridgewater State costs us nothing, not even transportation dollars.

So as next year's budget starts to take center stage, I would greatly appreciate it if it could be demonstrated how much ADDITIONAL dollars it will take in order to support these programs next year.

I stress "additional" dollars, as I infer for example that even without these programs the same teachers who are teaching and AP, DE, IB, etc, today would simply be paid to teach traditional/conventional courses, so that would be a wash.  But what about professional training, certifications, additional staffing, etc that would indeed add costs to supporting these programs?

Mike Flaherty


The following was Mr. MacMillan's response (Emphasis Mine).
Note, the references to "FTE" is an acronym which means "Full Time Equivalent"

From: "Michael MacMillan"
Date: Mar 1, 2017
Subject: Re: The cost of educating higher performing students?
To: "Mike Flaherty"
Cc: "Kimberly Shaver-Hood", "Scott W Palladino", "Geoff Swett", "Andrea Schwamb"


I've reviewed some information we have available and responded below.  Let me know what you think / if you would like to discuss further.


From a high level perspective, there are two main ways that one particular type of student could cost more to educate than another kind of student:

- staffing

- supplies / facilities

For our purposes, I'm assuming that the supplies and facilities costs are the same for all students (we know that's not quite true as some courses - particularly practical / vocational type courses might have higher set up costs). 

So I'm just looking at staffing.  There are three ways that staffing costs can be higher:

- higher staff:student ratios

- higher qualified staff requiring higher pay (in line with the Unit A contract)

- more requirements for training / professional development for staff.

I've also looked into a couple of specific programs.

Staffing Costs

When we report student course selections to the state we code each course as Basic, General or Advanced.  So comparing the staffing costs for these groupings gives us a sense of the extra cost of 'Advanced' courses (I've only looked at the high school and middle school for this analysis as we don't have 'advanced' classes at the Elementary level).  This information is all based on 'student course selections' i.e. that is the courses a student has selected as reported in our October 1st state report. 

For every student course selection, I took the salary of the teacher(s) teaching the class, multiplied it by the teacher FTE for the class and divided it by the total student FTE in that section.  That gives a teacher FTE cost per student FTE for that class.   The teacher and student FTEs I calculated very simply - so for example if a teacher teaches 5 sections, each one is 0.2FTE - this isn't perfect but it is the way the state calculates it.  However, a lot of caution is required here and the value of this is in comparing it to other courses, I'm not sure it would be valid as a 'true' cost.

These costs are limited to staff who are attached to a particular course - it would not, for example, include paraprofessionals or sped specialists who are not assigned to specific courses in our state report.

Higher Qualified / Salaried Staff?

The figures suggest little difference between the average salary of a teacher teaching an Advanced Class vs a General Class.  The bigger difference for the average of salaries of Basic level courses vs General Level courses may be due to the high level of support provided in Basic level courses e.g. paraprofessionals, SPED specialists etc. However, teachers can be teaching different levels so it's hard to draw concrete conclusions. 


Row Labels

Average Salary By Level







Grand Total



Higher Student Ratio

Student ratios do tend to be slightly lower for Advanced Courses vs General Courses (although Basic courses are much lower than both).

Row Labels

Count of Course-Section

Average of Students FTE per teacher FTE










Grand Total



Note: the average FTE shouldn't be confused with the number of students in a section.  The student FTE per teacher FTE also takes into consideration how many other classes the teacher and student take each week.  The average number of students in a section is shown in the table below:

Row Labels

Count of Cours-Section

Average of students per teacher










Grand Total




Converting these differences into actual costs is difficult as many teachers teach more than one level of course.  Also, students tend to spend more time in Advanced classes vs General classes (0.13FTE vs 0.11FTE respectively).

Training for AP teachers is every few years and we have been under the MMSI grant over the last few years, so the training hasn't cost us anything and everyone is up to date, so we don't have any staff scheduled for AP training next year.

For FY18, it is hard to say what the saving would be if we did not continue with the IB program as there are other training programs we might want to pursue.  The total for the two account lines concerned are as follows:


SY2013/14 Budget

 $         60,000

SY2014/15 Budget

 $         64,000

SY2015/16 Budget

 $         33,500

SY2016/17 Budget

 $         91,924

2018 Budget

 $         92,874


Apart from 2016, the budget has normally been around $60,000 - so with this comparison, it would suggest that IB 'additional cost' is around $30,000

Specific Programs

There's a couple of specific programs I also looked into:

HS / MS Dual Enrollment: there are 21 students in this program this year. Although the number of students per teacher in each section is higher at the middle school than at the high school, the number of students involved is not high enough to require extra staffing at the High School.

Bridgewater State Dual Enrollment: As of Oct 1st, there were 16 students in this program.  These courses are designated as advanced courses but we do not have any teachers associated with them so they have not been included in the numbers above - although, as you've said there is not costs associated with this.

Virtual High School Courses: As of Oct 1st, there were 11 students in virtual high school courses - which are all all general level courses.  Again, there are no teachers associated with them so they are also not included in the info above. Mike,