How much do school districts in California spend on teachers?

pie chart, from blprnt_van's site at flickr.com/creativecommonsThroughout the contract dispute with the school district, Oakland teachers have pointed out not only how well (or poorly) they are paid, but how much of the district’s budget is devoted to their paychecks.

By law, unified school districts in California must spend at least 55 percent of their expenses on the salaries and benefits of classroom teachers and instructional aides. For elementary school districts it’s 60 percent; for high school districts it’s just 50 percent. 

Oakland Unified fell short in 2008-09, as the union was quick to note. The data originally submitted to the state erroneously showed 56 percent, which is above the requirement, but it’s actually just below 52 percent*, said district spokesman Troy Flint.

According to this spreadsheet of unaudited data I requested from the California Department of Education (which reflects the inaccurate, higher number in OUSD), about 17 percent of all school districts in the state spent a smaller portion of their budgets on teachers than state law requires. Only about 6 percent of the state’s unified school districts did so, though — at least, by this accounting — and just 14 other unified school districts in the state (including San Francisco Unified) spent below 52 percent of their budgets on teacher compensation that year.

I broke out the percentages reported in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which you can find on the third tab.

Flint said the number of small schools in Oakland is one reason for the low percentage, as they have administrative overhead, and noted that Superintendent Tony Smith plans to close at least 20 schools within the next year or two. (Some of the small schools are the products of an ambitious reform strategy, while others have shrunk as enrollment has declined.)

In case you missed it, Bob Gammon made a case for closing schools in his East Bay Express column last week, and the union has suggested merging a small number of schools. Do you think that’s the way to go? If not, how else do you think OUSD do it?

NOTE: *Flint said the Alameda County Office of Education’s much-cited estimate for OUSD’s classroom compensation — 45 percent — is too low:

As for why the 45 percent figure gained currency, it’s probably because it’s based on a cursory assessment the County did for the 2008-09 adopted budget – not the actual budget. When the county does these assessments they are “at-a-glance” and advisory. Notably, they don’t look at what are called “overrides” or exclusions from the basic formula which is why the figure can often be lower, especially in districts with as many special allocations as OUSD.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Wait, so it’s 52% according to the same people who said a minute ago it was 56%? But the county said it was 45%? Hmmn.

    Bottom line: All of them are too low; the money needs to get right to the frontlines. And the measure is an interesting one, because it can be bumped up in either of two ways: Raising salaries OR increasing the number of teachers so you can have more prep and/or collob time, or smaller class sizes.

    And yeah, I think the small schools thing got really out of hand.

    The first ones, like ASCEND and Urban Promise Academy, were organically built by team’s of like-minded and passionate educators. By the middle of the decade, under Ward and the state, it was just pell-mell creation of dozens of schools with high turnover of teachers working under freshly-minted 32-year-old principals with like five years of teaching experience. Just all hope and glue and bits of straw!

    And even the best small schools have mostly succeeded with improving school culture and safety but have struggled to make significant headway in closing the achievement gap.

    If there are classrooms all over the district that are half-filled, that is on the admin to better manage our resources. (I will say as a teacher, even more than less students or more money I want more TIME for grading, planning and collaboration.)

    I have a hard time believing Smith can pull off closing more than a couple schools a year, though. As we saw in the past, even the most dysfunctional school is very beloved to some folks, if even just by its location, and so he better be a LOT more politically savvy than Ward!

  • Steven Weinberg

    Here is one possible piece of good news for the OUSD budget: Vince Matthews, the well-paid State Administrator, is becoming the Superintendent of Schools for San Jose Unified. The Board of Education and Superintendent Smith and the entire Oakland political establishment should be pressuring the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to appoint a part time (and much less lavishly paid) State Administrator.

  • CarolineSF

    Ah, I remember Vince Matthews back when he was running Edison Charter Academy here in SF, back in ’01, and giving fake test scores to the trusting press to show what an alleged miracle Edison was…

    Meanwhile, great idea about the state administrator. Why not join me in calling for saving money at the state level and abolishing the state Board of Ed too? All it seems to do is promote charter schools, and they already have the California Charter Schools Assn. to do that.

  • anon

    I don’t understand how school districts are allowed to break the law. I just had to pay a weighty fine and go to traffic school for breaking one of California’s laws. May I please have a list of laws that are okay to break?

  • TheTruthHurts

    Just heard the state is screwing us further with their “May Revision” of the state budget. More cuts to K-12 education. Just peachy!

  • Katy Murphy

    Here is the Mercury News story that ran today on Matthews’ appointment: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_15083513

  • Turanga_teach

    Hey Anon,
    Excellent point. There are sanctions for breaking the percentage law. Ironically, it’s a fine, which I believe the district has been coughing up on an annual basis in order to maintain its out-of-compliance spending pattern.

    Maybe if we stopped overpaying the state because we’re overpaying the administrators, we might not have to underpay the teachers.