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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?

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