Admin costs crowd out teaching

JULY 26, 2010


A revealing new study shows that in recent years increases in the administrative costs of California’s K-12 schools have squeezed salaries for teachers. It shines a powerful searchlight on exactly what goes on in the dark corners of school budgets.

The study is, “An Analysis of K-12 Education Expenditures in California: FY 2003-4 to FY 2008-09,” from the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. The scholars who wrote it are Steven B. Frates and Michael A. Shires. Frates has been one of my top sources for more than a decade. No one knows state and local budgets better than he does.

The Executive Summary is here.

The key finding:

Over the last several years, the expression “budget cuts” has been heard often regarding K‐12 public school district expenditures in California. In reality, total expenditures (excluding Capital Expenditures) have increased every year from FY 2003‐04 through FY 2007‐08, before leveling off in FY 2008‐09. (If Capital expenditures are included, the Total Expenditures have increased every Fiscal Year).

The study contradicts a lawsuit against the state, alleging under-funding of education, which I reported on a week ago here on

A couple more numbers from the study:

Total expenditures (excluding Capital Expenditures) increased from $45,603,379,048 to $55,601,177,318 during this period, an increase of 22%. To put this 22% increase in perspective, it was notably greater than the 15% increase in Per Capita Personal Income (PCPI) for all Californians during this period. It was also greater than the increase in inflation or the consumer price index during this period.

It’s pretty obvious that funding for K-12 education in California’s public schools has not been cut. So, what’s the problem?

“The trend line in various types of expenditures are slanted heavily toward administration,” Frates told me. “Administration went up faster than teachers’ salaries. The bureaucracy grows — it gets a bigger slice of the resources.”

How does this happen, when everyone from the governor down to the local school board, wants more money put into teaching? “The political process is controlled by the people who run the school system. And the media don’t cover this. How often to I do a study of it?”

I asked why Gov. Schwarzenegger didn’t do more. “The governor had many things on his plate to deal with. There were attempts” that didn’t catch on.


Another big problem, he said, is that not just school budgets, but most state and local budgets and California are difficult to access by the public and media. “There should be more prompt availability of data showing where the money goes,” he urged. “It should be readily available to any citizen online. It shouldn’t take a Ph.D. six months to dig out the information.”

He also urged my “colleagues in the Fourth Estate” — the media — to more closely scrutinize school budgets. “I would say there needs to be greater focus on the issues.”

The study’s numbers go only up to FY 2008-09. I asked how the numbers look for FY 2009-10, which ended just a month ago, on June 30; and which saw major budget cuts because of the Great Recession.

“The data for then will come out next spring,” he lamented. He said the public schools bureaucracy “is not very prompt in its reporting of data to the public. That’s a recurring problem. It does not speak well of California. Such data” — by all parts of government, not just the schools — “should be available by the end of the fiscal year.”

Administrative bloat

Some more conclusions from the study:

* Average Daily Attendance (ADA) fell from approximately 5.8 million in FY 2003-04 to 5.6 million in FY 2008-09. This means that, with budgets increasing, more money should have gone toward teaching each student; and it would have if administration had not eaten more of the education money pie.

Fiscal YearAverage Daily Attendance
03-04                   5,808,685
04-05                   5,810,058
05-06                   5,700,463
06-07                   5,744,828
07-08                   5,724,487
08-09                   5,630,222

* Between FY 2003-04 and FY 2008-09, California Per Capita Personal Income (PCPI) went up 15 percent — but certificated teachers’ salaries rose 21 percent, administrators’ salaries 28 percent and certificated pupil support salaries 42 percent.

* From the study:

Statewide, Total Expenditures per student (excluding capital expenditures) increased from $7,851 in FY03‐04 to $9,876 in FY 07‐08, before declining by one dollar, to $9,875 in FY 08‐09. This was an increase of 25.8% in Total Expenditures per student from FY 03‐04 through FY 08‐09.

This 28.5% increase was substantially greater than the 15% increase in California PCPI over this same period.

What this means is that, although Total Expenditures per student increased much faster than California PCPI, relatively less of this increased revenue per student has been going to Teacher Salaries and Benefits and relatively more has been going to other expenditures, notably Administrator salaries and benefits.

* From the study:

Statewide, Total Expenditures, including Capital Expenditures, per student increased from $9,799 in FY 03‐04 to $12,134 in FY 08‐09.

This last number is significant in light of what I wrote about just a week ago, in the article I mentioned. I noted that a study by the California Budget Project found that per-pupil spending for FY 2008-09  was $8,826, compared to the $11,372 national average.

But that’s way below the $12,134 identified by the Pepperdine study for the same fiscal year.


What can be done to improve matters in the classroom, restoring California schools to the preeminence they once had? “Stop the growth in administrative expenditures,” Frates urged to me. “Focus instead on growth in the classroom.”

He again emphasized the importance of timely reporting of data by government, and the media properly exercising its watchdog role of ferreting out the facts of what’s really going on in government.

John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 19 years, is a reporter and analyst for His email: [email protected].

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