Part of the Bay Area News Group

Do California school districts spend funds efficiently?

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 at 2:25 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Walnut Creek Intermediate teacher Brendan Hurd goes over a lesson with one of his students.
Walnut Creek Intermediate teacher Brendan Hurd goes over a lesson with one of his students.

By Theresa Harrington

Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to hold K-12 school funding hostage as an incentive for voters to pass temporary tax extensions in June has districts throughout the state bracing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Just hours before Brown gave his “State of the State” address on Monday — in which he said school funding would likely be cut if voters don’t agree to extend the taxes — researchers from Pepperdine University released a report that some have accused of implying that districts don’t need more money because they haven’t been spending it wisely.

“Within California, spending dropped by approximately $700 per student in just a two-year period, between 2006-07 and 2008-09 — a reduction of more than $4.6 billion (8.1 percent),” wrote the nonpartisian California Budget Project, in response to the report. “Recent budgets have depressed spending further, pushing class sizes larger and shortening the school year in many parts of the state. Despite these facts, researchers at Pepperdine University, in a study funded by the California Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation, imply that California’s schools receive sufficient resources.”

Rick Pratt of the California School Board Association also blasted the report during an Education Coalition news conference Tuesday that pointed out how education funding cuts have hurt schools.

If voters don’t approve the tax extension, he said, K-12 education funding could suffer a $2 billion cut. The Legislative Analyst has also said that education funding has been shortchanged in recent years, he added.

“So, you’ve got the Legislative Analyst documenting decline in funding for K-12,” he said. “You’ve got the Department of Finance that acknowledges school districts having to make painful cuts. And then you’ve got Pepperdine out there in left field saying, ‘No, everyone else is wrong.’ To make that claim is a little bit like trying to say the world is flat.”

Pratt said a number of technical issues led to Pepperdine’s “false assumption” and he referred to the California Budget Project’s analysis and critique to support his assertion.

Despite flaws pointed out by critics, the Pepperdine report does give the public a glimpse into school budgets it rarely gets –providing comparisons of districts statewide according to per pupil spending on operating expenses including some specific items, average daily attendance, average teachers’ salaries and how salaries and benefits for administrators and teachers grew between 2003-04 and 2008-09.

Here’s a snapshot of Contra Costa County districts, according to the report. Keep in mind, however, that Pepperdine’s definition of “classroom” spending includes teachers’ salaries and benefits, instructional aides, textbooks and books, materials and supplies, and consulting related to instruction or special education. Also, most districts have made substantial cuts since 2008-09, which aren’t reflected below:

ACALANES:
Average daily attendance: 5,460
Total per student spending: $14,798 (highest in county)
Percent in classroom: 38 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $41
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $172
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $17
Per student spending on consulting services: $514
Average teacher’s salary: $75,477 (highest in county)
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary and benefits growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

ANTIOCH:
Average daily attendance: 18,151
Total per student spending: $7,746
Percent in classroom: 68
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $65
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $146
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $18
Per student spending on consulting services: $481
Average teacher’s salary: $64,239
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

BRENTWOOD:
Average daily attendance: 7,964
Total per student spending: $7,093 (lowest in county)
Percent in classroom: 74 (highest in county)
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $108
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $110
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $13
Per student spending on consulting services: $409
Average teacher’s salary: $68,906
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

BYRON:
Average daily attendance: 1,622
Total per student spending: $7,581
Percent in classroom: 66
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $71
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $147
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $20
Per student spending on consulting services: $904
Average teacher’s salary: $60,011
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

CANYON:
Average daily attendance: 66
Total per student spending: $8,863
Percent in classroom: 64
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $82
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $246
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $35
Per student spending on consulting services: $405
Average teacher’s salary: not reported
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

JOHN SWETT:
Average daily attendance: 1,599
Total per student spending: $9,783
Percent in classroom: 58
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $96
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $144
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $34
Per student spending on consulting services: $1,275
Average teacher’s salary: $55,697 (lowest in county)
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate

LAFAYETTE ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 3,120
Total per student spending: $8,592
Percent in classroom: 67
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $117
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $20
Per student spending on consulting services: $274 (lowest in county)
Average teacher’s salary: $65,182
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

LIBERTY UNION:
Average daily attendance: 6,501
Total per student spending: $8,579
Percent in classroom: 58
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $122
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $195
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $13
Per student spending on consulting services: $688
Average teacher’s salary: $64,187
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

MARTINEZ:
Average daily attendance: 3,802
Total per student spending: $7,907
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $79
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $137
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $11
Per student spending on consulting services: $377
Average teacher’s salary: $62,381
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Administrators’ grew at a faster rate, teachers’ grew at a slower rate.

MORAGA:
Average daily attendance: 1,701
Total per student spending: $9,205
Percent in classroom: 61
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $74
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $183
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $8 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on consulting services: $510
Average teacher’s salary: $62,604
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

MT. DIABLO:
Average daily attendance: 33,220
Total per student spending: $8,685
Percent in classroom: 64
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $55
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $21
Per student spending on consulting services: $862
Average teacher’s salary: $61,095
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Administrators’ grew at a faster rate, teachers’ grew at a slower rate.

ORINDA UNION ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 2,362
Total per student spending: $10,226
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $88
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $276 (highest in county)
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $44 (highest in county)
Per student spending on consulting services: $553
Average teacher’s salary: $65,004
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

PITTSBURG UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 8,958
Total per student spending: $8,673
Percent in classroom: 60
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $160 (highest in county)
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $196
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $24
Per student spending on consulting services: $778
Average teacher’s salary: $58,795
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a slower rate.

SAN RAMON VALLEY UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 26,185
Total per student spending: $8,420
Percent in classroom: 62
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $105
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $170
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $12
Per student spending on consulting services: $531
Average teacher’s salary: $64,717
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

WALNUT CREEK ELEMENTARY:
Average daily attendance: 3,167
Total per student spending: $7,606
Percent in classroom: 71
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $52 (lowest in county)
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $161
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $17
Per student spending on consulting services: $514
Average teacher’s salary: $65,472
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Teachers’ grew at a faster rate, administrators’ grew at a slower rate.

WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED:
Average daily attendance: 27,883
Total per student spending: $10,791
Percent in classroom: 52
Per student spending on books and textbooks: $127
Per student spending on materials and supplies: $176
Per student spending on travel and conferences: $21
Per student spending on consulting services: $1,557 (highest in county)
Average teacher’s salary: $55,821
2003-04 to 2008-09 administrator and teacher salary growth compared to California per capita income growth of 15 percent: Both grew at a faster rate.

Although most districts present certificated salaries as part of their board budget presentations, many don’t break out administrators’ salaries, consulting, travel and conferences. As district leaders claim they are “cutting to the bone” and “keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” the public deserves to know why money is still being spent on travel, conferences and consultants.

The Mt. Diablo school district is already facing the need to cut $11.6 million by 2012-13 to balance its three-year budget. If Brown’s proposed tax extensions don’t make it onto the ballot or don’t pass, school districts throughout the state will likely have to cut an additional $330 per student from their budgets, Mt. Diablo Superintendent Steven Lawrence said at a Parent Advisory Council meeting last night (Wednesday).

In the Mt. Diablo school district, this would mean cutting $10.8 million next year and nearly $37.5 million by 2012-13.

Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards also unveiled a doomsday scenario: if the tax extensions fail AND if Prop. 98 is suspended, districts throughout the state could lose $650 to $1,200 per student. This would mean cuts ranging between $35.5-$56.9 million next year and $38.4-$60.1 million in 2012-13 in the Mt. Diablo district, they said.

When asked if this would even be possible, Lawrence said it would be the equivalent of shortening the school year by about 20 to 25 percent — from 180 days to 130 or 140. This could mean three-and-a-half or four-day school weeks, he said.

State deferrals are further complicating district budgets, Lawrence and Richards said. Since the state can’t afford to pay districts what they are owed, it is expecting districts to borrow money while they wait for deferred money from the state.

Lawrence said the board will likely call a special meeting March 8 to approve layoffs, since it will have to budget under the assumption that the tax extensions may not pass. He also said he hoped the Legislature would consider a Constitutional amendment to reduce the threshold for passing a parcel tax below two-thirds, so that districts can have a better chance of getting voter-approved local revenues.

“We’re going to hope for the best and we’re going to plan for somewhere in between,” Lawrence said. “We’re definitely not throwing out the red flag. We’re definitely not giving up. We just want to raise awareness.”

Do you think voters should approve the governor’s proposed tax extensions if the Legislature puts them on a June ballot?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • smcmom

    Thanks for a great summary and comparison. Could you please correct the Moraga, Pittsburg and Mount Diablo per student spending amounts.

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD spending $21 per student on travel and conferences — and $862 per student on consulting services. Administrator salaries grew faster than teacher salaries. There is fat to cut.

  • Linda

    If MDUSD dropped consulting services by $200 (still above the average) they would save $6.6mil. And if they dropped it by $300 (about average) they could save almost $10mil. If they dropped the travel and conferences altogether it would save $700,000.
    I wonder how much of the consulting services costs come out of the general fund?
    I don’t think they have any better chance of passing today than they did in May 2009.

  • Doctor J

    A taxdollar is a taxdollar is a taxdollar.

  • Theresa Harrington

    smc mom: Yes, sorry I initially accidentally posted teachers’ salaries instead of per student funding for those districts. I have corrected the amounts.
    Also, I have corrected the information regarding Pittsburg’s salaries. Pittsburg is the only district in the county where both administrators’ and teachers’ salaries and benefits rose less quickly than California per capita personal income.

  • mdusd mom

    Doctor J, you neglected to acknowledge this part of the article:
    ” Also, most districts have made substantial cuts since 2008-09, which aren’t reflected below”

    Have you asked your employer how much they have cut in these area’s?

  • Doctor J

    MdusdMom: You are correct the 09/10 year is not reflected probably because it wasn’t available.

  • Doctor J

    MdusdMom: The audited financials 09/10 were just presented to the Board Jan 25. You can read the audit report and the discrepencies found. http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/db461d58-49b7-4814-859d-2c70658fce5e.pdf

  • AnotherMom

    A question? It looks like the per pupil spending amount is not the same as ADA. Does anyone know what funding sources make up per pupil spending? ADA + funds from some other sources? PI dollars, Title I dollars, Parcel tax dollars?

  • Doctor J

    AnotherMom: All funding sources are listed in the audit report I cited in post #8.

  • Wait a Minute

    The “Consulting” amounts that MDUSD is spending is outrageous.
    I wonder how much of the MDUSD “Consulting” dollars is being steered towards the Schreder family’s business with the MDUSD Board President employed by a Schreder?

  • mdusd mom

    I read the audit quickly and noted on page #8 they stated that Admin “only” was 4% of total costs and 77% was related to students. It is a long report and you can see cuts have been made. I did not see anything earth shattering in the report and did note they recommended the District re-instate the Internal Auditor position. The District does not have the funding to do this because of the cuts in Funding.

    Wait a Minute, if you read the article it acknowledges that substantial cuts have been made since this report. If you wonder, have you asked or done any research?

  • Doctor J

    mdusd mom: Not really. The language is carefully crafted. Page 8 says “purely administrative actvities” — but when you go to Page 14 for the breakdown, you see that Administration costs are spread throughout the other different categories. For example, when you look at “Instructional Services” it includes “school site administration” at $21 million. Its hard to know what is included in all the categories, because we don’t have the category definitions. But clearly the administration is way more than 4% when you add it up from all the categories.

  • Theresa Harrington

    FYI, Oakland Tribune reporter Katy Murphy has posted an Excel spreadsheet comparing Alameda County district spending to others in the state at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/files/2011/02/Pepperdine-breakout.xls.
    Oakland’s spending on consultants was far higher than any districts in Contra Costa County — at $2,389 per student. Katy blogged about the reasons for this at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/2011/02/03/report-ousd-spent-big-on-consultants/.

  • Doctor J

    Mdusdmom: You can easily compare the cuts from the 08/09 school year with the 09/10 by comparing the two audits. See page 15 of 08/09 http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/6d7082f9-9689-4b8d-8d99-e46770d226e2.pdf
    and compare with page 14 of 09/10 in post #8
    Some categories increased and some decreased.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    Mr. Lawrence would like to lower the threshold for approval of a parcel tax? Well, well, he finally discovers the advantages of a parcel tax over taking out a 42-year loan for solar panels. Here’s a thought, Mr. Lawrence: with basically no support from the district or union, a little over 60% of MDUSD voters were willing to support a parcel tax. Just in case the threshold can’t be lowered from two-thirds, suppose the district put just a portion of the effort that was put into the Measure C campaign (multiple mailers, emails, speeches, site rallies) into a parcel tax campaign for reliable funding that we can control and that can go directly into classroom instruction. Whaddaya think of trying that someday?!? Granted, there are fewer opportunities for doling out contracts and enjoying spiffs from contractors. It will just be a boring ol’ parcel tax for teacher compensation and instructional materials. Could he ever get on board with that?

  • Theresa Harrington

    It is much harder to raise money for a parcel tax campaign because potential donors aren’t likely to receive the benefit of construction, design or other contracts if it passes. So, it’s unlikely there would be the same level of mailers, etc. for a parcel tax measure.
    However, Lawrence said he would like to revive the CUES committee to campaign for passage of Brown’s proposed tax extensions. Also, the board plans to adopt a resolution Tuesday endorsing the idea of a tax extension measure: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=3607&mtgId=297

  • Linda

    This district will not pass a parcel tax until they do the hard work needed to restore trust and confidence. They cannot do that without leadership that inspires or without a comprehensive plan with stakeholder buy-in that puts into place specific goals to improve the quality of education, better customer service, genuine communication, and fiscal common sense.
    It’s February – will there be a strategic plan meeting?

  • Linda

    That “or” should be an “and”

  • Sue Berg

    Theresa, You’re right that it’s harder to raise money for a parcel tax campaign than for a bond measure because of the reasons you cite.

    And yet, despite the amount of campaign contributions, the last parcel tax initiative (Measure D in 2009, which failed) received nearly the same percentage of “yes” votes (just over 60%) as the 2010 bond initiative, which passed. The difference, of course, is the threshold needed for passage: 66.3% for a parcel tax; 55% for a bond. What’s ironic is that property owners pay more for a bond (based on their property’s valuation) than for a parcel tax (a flat amount, which under Measure D was $99 per property–as compared to the $633/parcel my Lafayette neighbors and I pay for our K-12 schools).

    It’s clear that a majority of voters in the MDUSD community are willing to tax themselves to help fund school needs. It’s also evident that parents and others are willing to work hard on assorted fund-raising efforts to help support athletics, music, and school site programs. The long-promised strategic plan could address ways to build on this support and provide the criteria needed for the decisions the Board is facing regarding schools, programs, and students.

  • Wait a Minute

    I rather doubt the voters would be willing to pass a parcel tax after all the scandal and disrepute that Eberhart, Lawrence, Marsh and others have brought upon the MDUSD.

    When you have a scathing editorial blasting your lack of ethics as Lawrence had after taking gratuities from Chevron while discussing a no-bid contract, that does not endear the voter’s trust much.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    I understand Theresa’s and Wait A Minute’s points. There are no obvious pools of funds to tap into for a parcel tax marketing campaign, and yes, the district has managed to undermine its credibility even further, as a result of the Measure C fiasco. But the last campaign attracted an amazing level of support, with the district doing, basically, nothing. (OK, maybe that was a PLUS!) But seriously, most districts around us have mounted coordinated organizational and communication campaigns to get their parcel taxes passed. The district mounts a serious argument; the teacher’s union actually comes out in favor of something that can have a bigger favorable impact on teachers than anything else on the table. Imagine that! Here’s why I think it is possible and necessary: all of this talk about saving $1.5 mil in school closures is a side show, in the end. This district is facing massive budget holes well in excess of that figure. People are going to start seeing impacts in their schools that they could not have imagined. It will either rally people to support their schools, or they will give up on MDUSD and let the state run it. I really think we are reaching an inflextion point in public support for public schools, and this district in particular. More and more households do not have school-age children, and if we don’t get this district to clean up its act, voters will toss it under the bus. We have a short window to start funding MDUSD schools locally with a parcel tax. We may have missed the window already, but I don’t see an alternative to trying.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Superintendent Steven Lawrence started educating the public about the district’s financial distress in this “news update,” distributed the day of the school closure vote: http://bit.ly/hEASeC.
    There’s no word on when he expects to send out the second “news update,” explaining how the governor’s proposed budget would affect the district.