Three Licking County school districts are among 135 statewide who have been recognized for superior operational performance in non-classroom functions, according to a study released this week by Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Three Licking County school districts are among 135 statewide who have been recognized for superior operational performance in non-classroom functions, according to a study released this week by Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

The Granville, Licking Valley and Lakewood school districts were identified in the study.

Consultant Michael Harlow said KnowledgeWorks had been approached last year by the Ohio Department of Education to explore ways in which the state could save money spent on schools. The study released last week concluded that the state could save $1.4 billion annually if all districts were to adopt the practices of the top 5 percent of schools in five categories, including central office administration, school administration, maintenance, transportation and food services.

"They asked us what we thought about this and we said, 'Let's focus on operational spending, identifying efficiencies on all this stuff that happens outside the classroom,'" Harlow said. "If districts could match their spending to benchmark districts, the state would save $1.4 billion."

The most savings, $618 million, would come from maintenance, followed by $248 million in central office administration, $240 million in school building administration, $138 million in food service and $126 million in transportation.

Harlow said the study took into account the seven typologies used by the Ohio Department of Education to group similar schools.

"We're not comparing Granville to Newark or Granville to Columbus or Newark to Columbus," Harlow said. "We're comparing high-income districts to high-income districts and rural districts to rural districts. We are comparing like to like across the state."

Harlow said the study also took into account various quality factors to make sure that the study revealed best value.

"We've identified the most effective districts, which is not the same as the lowest cost," Harlow said. "We have quality indicators in each of the categories. In food service, you could serve all the students beans but it would not be effective. You would not get participation and students would not get a quality meal."

The study revealed a wide range of costs for similar quality service.

"Some peer districts are spending two and three times as much," Harlow said. "You're talking about some districts spending three times as much for a meal."

Jay Gault, superintendent of Lakewood schools, said changes to bring operations into cash balance are difficult.

"Six years ago, our food service was in the red and the general fund was subsidizing them to about $50,000," Gault said. "We used technology called 'point of sale' that has increased our efficiency and then we looked at how we were staffing. We made cuts and restructured, and now we operate in the black."

Granville was recognized for maintenance costs of $1,684 per student, compared to districts spending as much as $4,472 per student in its peer group.

Also, Granville's building administration costs are $331 per student, compared to $980 per student in its peer group.

Licking Valley and Lakewood were both recognized for food service, spending $2.41 per meal and $1.92 per meal, respectively, compared to as much as $5.88 per meal at peer schools.