By DAVE GYMBURCH Sentinel staff writer

The Rome school district’s total per-pupil spending was fourth-highest among county districts in the 2007-08 year, according to a new online database of statewide figures.

The district’s total expense of $19,653 per student was below the statewide average of $22,791, said an official with the Empire Center for New York State Policy which developed the list along with the Public Policy Institute.

The "Benchmarking New York" database for schools, announced Monday, addresses various categories of districts’ 2007-08 spending excluding New York City. It is part of the site that also posts other spending information regarding numerous branches of state government.

Rome district representatives including Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons and school board President Patricia Riedel had no immediate response when asked about the database figures. Riedel said she would review the figures. Rome’s enrollment is about 5,800 children and the district’s budget is $95.6 million.

Multiple per-pupil spending lists, with variations in their totals and their criteria, have been compiled in recent years by such organizations as the state Education Department, state Business Council, and New York State United Teachers.

Such differences were acknowledged by Lise Bang-Jensen, a senior policy analyst with the Empire Center for New York State Policy. But she emphasized that the center’s database is geared to help the public better assess the overall topic, by being more convenient than other sources in providing the information and rankings among districts.

"What we’re trying to do" is provide people with "access to information" that is not regularly issued to "allow them to compare to neighboring school districts," Bang-Jensen said. If people are wondering "what are we spending this on?....Our data will not tell you why...but it will help you ask the right questions."

For example, some districts may have large numbers of students with special needs, which can affect their per-student spending, said Bang-Jensen. In addition, she noted that the center’s total spending compilations include a district’s capital spending, so that figures for a given year could be inflated by expenses on buildings.

To help account for such factors, the center also issued a list of districts’ spending on instruction only, including teacher salaries, supplies/materials, BOCES services, and equipment.

The Rome district’s instruction spending per pupil was $9,307 in 2007-08, which was third-highest in the county. But the Camden district, which ranked third in total per-pupil spending at $19,743, had instruction spending per-pupil of just $7,988 which was ninth-highest in the county.

For the 6-county Mohawk Valley region of 51 districts, the center’s list said tiny Piseco had the highest total per-pupil spending of $55,488, but its instruction spending per pupil was $22,672 which ranked second. The small Inlet district had the highest instruction spending, at $24,569 per student. Both are Adirondack Mountain communities in Hamilton County.

Rome district officials previously have said that the district’s expenses per pupil rose following the closing of Griffiss Air Force Base in the mid-1990s; district enrollment dropped significantly, prompting seniority-driven layoffs of many younger teachers with lower salaries. Officials also have said that the per-pupil spending compared to other districts should decline due to various cost-saving measures including school closings and consolidations.

The district’s per-pupil spending was second-highest in the county for 2002-03 according to Education Department figures, but was sixth-highest for 2007-08 in a separate Business Council report.