School Districts Trim Overhead to Put More Money in Classroom

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, August 16, 2012

The story about the Issaquah School District's $167.5 million proposed budget notes the budget's flatness, no major increases or decreases in spending across all categories. The district also stands out for spending slightly less on overhead than the average King County school district.

Issaquah's administrative costs are 9.22 percent of the total budget, the King County average for school districts was 11.76 percent in 2011-2012.

Issaquah points to two trends in education finance: budgets that continue current spending with little in the way of new initiatives or dramatic cuts to ongoing efforts. It's called not writing a check the district can't cash.

The second trend is lower overhead that frees up dollars for the classrooms. A Washington state performance audit of school districts noted that Washington and 11 other states spent about 60 percent of school dollars in classrooms, according to a 2009 comparison by the National Center for Education Statistics and could do a better job driving the $12 billion in annual state funding into classrooms.

Washington's performance is not the worst, nor the best. The center found that 18 states spent more on overhead than the national average and 20 spent less. Still, state Auditor Brian Sonntag posed a worthwhile challenge to Washington school districts do drive more money into the classrooms where it could made a difference. Until the Legislature identifies the source of additional funding for schools - required by the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision - the money will have to come from existing budgets. Let's be clear, we're not talking about billions in all new funding but a mix of some new revenue and reallocations from existing budgets. A national report on state spending on health care versus K-12 education offers a broader perspective. Washington's new joint task force on education funding is considering the state's options. Members are hearing calls for a state income tax to better fund education, but there has been no consensus yet.

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