A third of the kindergarten-through-12th-grade public school districts in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties exceeded the state average for total per-pupil spending during the last academic year, according to data released by New Jersey Department of Education on Friday.
The information was contained in the Taxpayers' Guide to Education Spending, a retooled version of the former annual Comparative Spending Guide.
The old guide calculated per-student spending taking into account many variables, including educator salaries, supplies, and administrative costs.
The new study tabulated those variables, which it called "budgetary per-pupil costs," plus additional items including transportation, debt service, cost of students sent out of district, and state contributions to pension and retiree medical costs.
"If we are going to reform a system that is failing tens of thousands of children, we need real accountability for academic performance that considers the total dollars being spent," Gov. Christie said in a statement that accompanied the data. "Parents, students, and taxpayers deserve nothing less than a complete reporting of all the facts."
Statewide, the average total spending per pupil was $17,836 in the 2009-10 school year, according to the study. This was the academic year that preceded 2010's dramatic cuts in state aid to education.
The average for the 31 former so-called Abbott districts was $20,859, while the average for the state's more than 500 other districts was $17,050, according to state officials. The Abbotts - mostly urban, low-income districts - receive a relatively high level of aid as a result of years of court-ordered relief.
As in past years, the level of spending did not necessarily correspond to higher or lower student performance.
Many factors influence student achievement and school spending, said New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio. Low-income districts may face significant educational challenges, he said. On the monetary side, transportation needs, special education and other mandated services, and a veteran faculty can result in higher costs.
"There are many factors that do not translate into test scores," Belluscio said.
The highest-spending K-12 district in the state - K-12s are nearly 40 percent of all districts - was the former Abbott district Asbury Park. Its $29,819 per-pupil spending in 2009-10, counting the new variables, was a 3 percent increase over the previous academic year.
Coming in at No. 6 statewide and first locally among K-12s was Camden, at $23,770 per student counting the new items - a 4 percent increase over 2008-09.
In Camden, total per-student spending minus the added costs included this year - the "budgetary per-pupil cost" - was $19,118.
On other end of the spending spectrum, Monroe Township in Gloucester County was the lowest at $14,066 per student, a 3 percent decrease from the year before. A few notches up the list was academically high-performing Haddonfield, at $14,929 per student.
Statewide, seventh-through-12th-grade districts, or high school districts, averaged $19,882 per pupil. The two local districts that exceeded that were Gloucester's Gateway Regional at $23,385, a 14 percent increase over the previous year, and Lenape Regional at $20,345, 3 percent higher than the year before. All of the totals were calculated with the new items.
Spending for students at Kingsway Regional, also in Gloucester County, was less in 2009-10 than New Jersey's other 46 high school districts. It came in at $14,711.
The district, like its elementary counterpart Swedesboro-Woolwich, has pleaded with state officials for more aid to cope with surging enrollments.
The guide also calculated spending on classroom instruction. Among K-12s in the region, Pemberton - a former Abbott district - spent the most on instruction in 2009-10 - $10,790, or 60 percent of its budgeted per-pupil cost. The state average was about $7,900.