Lt. Gov. Matthew Denn released his office’s first annual report on public school district spending on April 16, and the report shows that Delaware school districts could spend an additional $28 million per year on direct educational services to students, with no additional expense to taxpayers, if they were all directing funds into the classroom at a uniformly high level.
The report, which is based on statistics from the most recently completed school year (2008-2009), showed that the Seaford, Caesar Rodney and Cape Henlopen School Districts were spending the highest percentages of their total budgets on direct educational services to children.
The report also showed that the Laurel and Appoquinimink School Districts were spending the lowest percentages of their total budgets on direct educational services to children. The report showed that the Laurel and Appoquinimink districts spent higher percentages of their budgets on administrative expenses than the state’s other 14 traditional school districts.
“I believe that public education spending should be one of the state’s highest budget priorities,” Denn said. “But it is also critical that our public school districts spend as much of their existing money as possible on services that directly impact student education.
“This report provides evidence that we could significantly expand support for teachers and other professionals who work directly with kids if our school districts made better use of the money they have.”
According to the most recently published national statistics, which compared median expenditures for 22 states where such expenditure statistics were available, Delaware’s ratio of instructional-related and student support spending to total spending was lower than that of any surrounding states that were measured (Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island).
The table prepared by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office shows five statistics for all districts, and a sixth statistic for 11 of the school districts, and the Indian River School District appears in the middle of the table.
Delaware school districts varied widely in the ratio of public funds that they devoted to direct educational expenses. Total direct student educational spending ranges from a low of 69.59 percent of the total school budget to a high of 77.47 percent, and spending on pure administrative expenses ranges from a low of 4.3 percent to a high of 10.03 percent.
The five traditional public school districts that spent the highest percentages of their budgets on direct educational expenditures were Seaford, Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Capital and Red Clay. The two traditional school public school districts that spent the lowest percentages of their budgets on direct educational expenses were Laurel and Appoquinimink.
The three traditional public school districts with the highest administrative costs in the state were Laurel, Appoquinimink and Woodbridge. The three traditional public school districts with the lowest administrative costs in the state were Capital, Lake Forest and Cape Henlopen.
The Indian River School District spent 67.5 percent in instructional expenses (related to the interaction between teachers and students, including salaries and benefits for teachers and teacher aides, textbooks, supplies and purchased services).
It spent 0.95 percent on instruction support, including instructional staff training, educational media (library and audiovisual) and other instructional staff support services.
The IRSD spent 5.29 percent on student support, including attendance and social work, guidance, health, psychological services, speech pathology, audiology and other student support services.
The district spent 73.74 percent on the total of instructional expenses, instruction support and student support. That total is an effort to represent total district spending on direct educational services to students.
In the figures, “student support” is added to “instructional expenses” and “instruction support” in recognition of the fact that many of the services provided under “student support” are a direct part of the educational mission for many of the district’s students, and that some districts by virtue of their student population must make disproportionate expenses in this category.
The IRSD spent 7.29 percent on administration, representing expenses for school and district administration (superintendent and supporting staff, board of education and supporting staff, principals and supporting staff and school district staff.
The report suggests that the IRSD could spend $2,643,442 more on direct student services if it was spending on direct educational expenses with the same average ratio as the five districts with the highest ratios.
Meanwhile, the Laurel School District could spend an additional $1.632,358 on direct educational services to students if it were spending funds with the same ratio being devoted to direct educational expenses as the average of the state’s five districts with the highest ratios.
(The chart does not reflect expenditures on food services, student transportation, and school operations/maintenance, which is why the percentage totals do not add up to 100 percent.)
The total additional funds available in all the districts, if they were held to the average of the ratios in the five top districts, exceeded $28 million, the report says.
“These statistics are baseline numbers, drawn from a school year whose budget was prepared by local officials before the current administration and General Assembly took office,” Denn said. “Our hope is that the statistics in coming school years for all of our districts will improve, and more dollars will be spent on direct educational services to kids, now that this issue has been highlighted.”