The average cost of public education in New Jersey decreased about 2.5 percent, or $435 per student, in 2010-11 according to the 2012 Taxpayers’ Guide to Education released by the state Department of Education on Friday.

Locally, school districts ranged from the highest spending, with Avalon at $39,898 per student, to among the lowest, with Hammonton at $13,046 per student.

The report shows the average annual per-student cost dropped from $17,787 in 2009-10 to $17,352 in 2010-11. The amount includes all expenditures made toward public education, including transportation, debt service, federal funds and state payments for employee pensions, social security and medical costs.

The annual guide, available on the Department of Education website, also breaks down average expenditures in various categories for every school district and charter school in the state.

Categories include classroom instruction, administration, plant operations, support services, extracurricular activities and food service. Districts are also ranked comparatively with other districts of similar size in each category. The report includes actual expenses for 2009-10 and 2010-11 and budgeted expenses for 2011-12.

The cost of direct classroom instruction — which includes the salaries and benefits of all classroom teachers and aides, plus classroom books, supplies and testing — also dropped slightly statewide from $8,042 per student in 2009-10 to $7,904 in 2010-11. The average budgeted amount for 2011-12 was $8,242.

“The report today demonstrates our commitment to providing clear and usable data on our schools to taxpayers across the state,” acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said in a statement announcing the report.

Locally, seven of the 16 school districts in Cape May County ranked in the top 30 highest-spending districts in the state. Avalon, ranked eighth, was the top-spending regular school district in the state.

The first seven of the highest-spending districts are all special-services districts which serve only students with disabilities and have proportionally higher costs due to small class sizes and required extra staffing.

The Bergen County Special Services School District had the highest total per student cost statewide in 2010-11 at $89,831. Cape May County Special Services ranked third at $61,624. Atlantic County Special Services ranked sixth at $50,536 per student.

County vocational schools in Hudson, Bergen, Somerset and Cape May counties were also among the top spenders, with Cape May spending $24,506 per student. The Cumberland County vocational school, which operates only on a shared-time basis, is among the lowest-spending districts at $13,424.

Other Cape May County schools in the top 30 are Wildwood at $26,532 per student, West Cape May at $26,236, Stone Harbor at $24,818, Sea Isle City at $24,406 and North Wildwood at $24,296.

Pleasantville ranked 17th statewide in total spending at $25,812 per student; Atlantic City ranked 18th at $25,490 per student and Long Beach Island in Ocean County ranked 19th at $25,376.

At the lower end of spending, Hammonton’s $13,046 ranked it 620th of 648 public school districts and charter schools. In its size category, Hammonton ranked as the lowest-spending K-12 district in the state.

Other low-spending districts included Absecon at $13,491 per student and Tuckerton at $13,843.

The fledgling Vineland Public Charter School spent just $10,362 in 2010-11, the fifth-lowest in the state.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241