Last October, FoxBaltimore.com published a story that identified a major financial issue plaguing its hometown public school district, as well as districts across the nation.
“Maryland spends a lot of money on education,” the news report said. “This year, Annapolis alone will send $6.3 billion to Maryland public schools – 18 percent of the state’s budget. Yet, districts like Baltimore City say it’s not enough.”
Yearly budget gaps spark protests outside the State House. School maintenance funding gets cut. Schools lose heat and hot water. Students don’t have enough desks. Teachers get laid off.
Now, a 2017 U.S. Census report on education spending nationally, is giving us a better idea of where your tax dollars are really going.
We discovered Baltimore City spends the most money in America on administration. For every student enrolled in City Schools, $1,630 goes to administrators – like principals and high-level employees at North Avenue (where the district headquarters is located). This is money that does not go to the classroom.
That scenario is common in school districts across America.
Classrooms are overcrowded, teachers are overworked and underpaid, and standardized test scores are mediocre or worse. Considering those challenges, one might expect schools to invest every dime possible directly into classrooms, to compensate effective teachers and provide materials necessary for academic success.
But instead, thousands of school districts continue to divert large chunks of revenue to big salaries and benefits for school administrators – starting with wildly expensive superintendents all the way down to principals and assistant principals, with lots of in-house attorneys and department heads tucked in between.
“The number of non-teaching staff in the United States (those employed by school systems but not serving as classroom teachers) has grown by 130 percent since 1970,” the Fordham Institute reported in 2014. “Non-teachers – more than three million strong – now comprise half of the public school workforce. Their salaries and benefits absorb one-quarter of current education expenditures.”
Over the past few months, EAGnews.org has used public information requests to gather salary and benefit information for administrators in dozens of school districts around the nation. We found many examples of districts paying bloated salaries and benefits to administrators, even when dollars are desperately needed in the classroom.
One very clear example comes from the San Diego school district, where officials entered the 2017-18 school year trying to deal with a massive $124 million budget deficit. Some layoffs had already occurred, and 167 teachers had lost their jobs.
But during the previous school year, the top 300 earners on the San Diego school payroll all made at least $150,000 per year in base salary plus benefits.
The total compensation (salary plus benefits) for those 300 employees came to $51.3 million. That breaks down to an average of $171,063 per employee.
Their combined base salary came to nearly $40 million. Their pension contributions cost the district nearly $5 million, while their health coverage cost a combined $5.5 million.
Only nine of the 300 high-end employees were teachers, and only four were classified as “regular teachers.”
Most of the money went to layers of administrative bureaucrats, who gobbled up huge chunks of payroll at a time when the school struggled to fund classroom instruction.
The problem goes back for years, and has been well documented by researchers and journalists throughout the nation.
A 1988 Los Angeles Times report said “the state controller’s office found that California public school districts could have paid for at least 200 additional teachers last year if they had complied with a state law limiting the number of administrators.
“According to a study released by Controller Gray Davis, six out of 12 school districts surveyed statewide were found to have an excessive number of administrators.”
In a 2009 story regarding the Seattle school district, Crosscut.com reported that “central administration FTEs (full-time employees) have increased 48 percent since 1998. Enrollment in the same period has declined 7.5 percent.
“Central administration cost growth is 96 percent in the last decade, well out of line with growth in the overall operating budget and other budget sectors. The growth trend has not abated since the state auditor called attention to top-heavy administrative structure.”
But apparently, K-12 officials have not learned their lesson over the years, because excessive spending on administrative payrolls continues to plague our schools.
A non-profit organization called Think New Mexico recently published a report about the impact of administrative bloat in its state. The report said New Mexico has standards in place for the percentage of school dollars that should be spent directly on classrooms – 65 percent for smaller districts and 75 percent for larger ones – but 40 of the state’s 89 districts don’t reach those standards, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
“Only 57 cents of every dollar spent on education goes to instruction statewide,” the Journal reported. “The rest pays for administrative costs such as school boards, superintendents, human resources, public relations, purchasing, printing and other expenses that don’t directly impact students.”
If New Mexico school districts simply lowered their administrative spending to match the national average, almost $55 million more would be available for classrooms, according to the Think New Mexico report.
Sadly, New Mexico schools are far from alone when it comes to spending too much on employees who don’t teach children.
Check out the stories we publish over the next several days, offering many examples of school districts across the nation with payrolls that are far too heavy at the top.