The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
School administration spending examined
Related story: In city, per-student costs high
By PAMELA GOULD
Elected boards across the Fredericksburg region perennially debate the right way to spend tax dollars on educating children.
And, inevitably, the dispute centers around finding the proper balance between expenditures for classroom instruction and school system administration.
In Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, the boards of supervisors have insisted on directing more money into the classroom.
In Stafford, the school division spent more on administration than the statewide average in four of the past 10 years, supporting the complaints of some elected officials.
But in Spotsylvania, where scrutiny is intensifying for the coming school year, administrative spending never reached the state average during the past decade.
And in Fredericksburg, where city officials have focused their attention on courthouse decisions, the school division has consistently outspent every jurisdiction in the region in per-student spending for both administration and instruction.
As elected officials hammered out details for their fiscal 2013 budgets this spring, The Free Lance–Star began analyzing school spending across the 10 jurisdictions in the region. The newspaper used data supplied by the school divisions to the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts over a 10-year period from fall 2001 through spring 2011.
The figures show how school divisions spent tax dollars in the two categories that parents, educators and public officials focus on most when deciding how to allocate funds: instruction and administration. The newspaper used enrollment data to calculate spending per student.
The analysis found that Fredericksburg schools, which had between 2,282 and 3,220 pupils over the decade examined, spent far more per student than did the region’s largest districts, which have about nine times higher enrollments.
In fact, the city’s spending exceeded the statewide average for spending on both instruction and administration throughout the past decade, except in the 2010–11 school year, when it equaled the state average for instruction spending.
Otherwise, the city spent between 9 percent and 29 percent more per student than the state average on instruction and between 60 percent and 461 percent more than the state average on administration.
ADMINISTRATION SPENDING IN THE LARGEST DIVISIONS
As the spring budget process ended, the Stafford and Spotsylvania boards of supervisors moved in opposite directions on oversight of school spending.
Stafford supervisors last year doled out dollars using categorical funding, which divides spending into six categories: instruction; transportation; maintenance; technology; debt service; and administration, attendance and health. The supervisors, however, limited their detailed oversight to two categories: instruction and all else.
This spring, they got into a brouhaha with the School Board over a request to transfer money into a category for maintenance projects, such as replacing carpet. Supervisors insisted money stay in the instructional category.
But, after the fiscal 2013 budget was finalized, the supervisors decided to end categorical funding.
In Spotsylvania, however, the new majority on the Board of Supervisors just instituted categorical funding to control spending and ensure money is prioritized for classroom instruction.
But, according to the data assembled by the state auditor, the closest Spotsylvania’s school division came to the statewide average for administration spending was in the 2010–11 school year, when it was 16 points below the average.
Otherwise, Spotsylvania was between 21 and 36 percentage points below the state average for per-student spending on administration.
Stafford schools spent more on administration than the state average four of the 10 school years examined: the 2004–05 school year and from fall 2006 through spring 2009.
Administration spending there fell below the state average for the past two years for which data is available.
In 2009–10, Stafford spent $431 per student or 9 percent less than the state average. In 2010–11, it spent $356 per student or 22 percent less.
Those same years, Stafford spent $7,109 and $7,162 respectively on instruction per student. The state average was more than $8,000 per student in each of those years.
By comparison, Spotsylvania spent $366 per student on administration and $7,167 on instruction in the 2009–10 school year. It spent $382 per student on administration and $7,012 on instruction in the 2010–11 school year.
Among the 10 school divisions in the Fredericksburg region, Stafford ranked in the top five for administration spending all but one of the 10 years examined. Spotsylvania ranked in the bottom five all but one year. Both exceptions came in the 2010–11 school year.
During the decade examined, Stafford’s enrollment continually grew, from 22,295 students in 2001 to 27,266 in 2010.
Spotsylvania’s enrollment grew from 20,076 students in 2001 to a peak of 24,458 in 2007. It dropped to 23, 648 to end the decade.
ADMINISTRATION SPENDING IN SMALL DIVISIONS
Two of the three smallest school divisions in the Fredericksburg region spent the most per student on administration for the decade studied.
The town of Colonial Beach—the smallest jurisdiction with enrollment of fewer than 600 students for most of the period analyzed—consistently ranked second or third among the region’s 10 jurisdictions.
The town spent a low of $356 per student on administration in the 2001–02 school year, which was 6 percent above the state average. Its administrative spending peaked at $665 per student in the 2005–06 school year, which was 49 percent above the state average.
Westmoreland County, with an average of 1,891 students through the decade, is the second-smallest school division in the region.
Its spending on administration ranked near the bottom in the region—between 7th and 9th—from fall 2001 through spring 2005. But it jumped to the top four from fall 2005 through spring 2011.
Westmoreland’s spending on administration ranged from a low of $232 per student in the 2003–04 school year, 39 percent less than the state average, to a high of $649 per student in the 2008–09 school year, 32 percent more than the state average.
The city of Fredericksburg has the region’s third-smallest school division, but spent more on administration than any other district in the region. In addition, it spent at least double the state average eight of the 10 years examined.
The city division grew from 2,282 students to 3,220 between 2001 and 2011, an increase of 41 percent.
At its peak—during the 2005–06 school year—Fredericksburg’s administration spending was 5.6 times the state average.
That year, the city spent $2,508 per student on administration compared with $447 statewide. That year, the city spent $8,078 per student on instruction.
The city’s second-highest administration spending came during the 2004–05 school year, when it spent nearly 3 times the state average, $1,409 per student compared to $409 statewide. That year, the city spent $8,199 per student on instruction.
The Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts uses different definitions for administration and instruction than do many school divisions or the general public.
Below are definitions used by the state Auditor of Public Accounts, which annually assembles data from school divisions statewide.
INSTRUCTION—duties dealing directly with the interaction between teachers and students.
This includes classroom teachers and instructional support staff such as guidance counselors, school social workers and folks who develop curriculum.
It also includes school-based administrators, such as principals and assistant principals.
ADMINISTRATION—includes the School Board, superintendent, public information office, finance, planning, purchasing and human resources.
The state auditor lumps administration, attendance and health into one category and defines it as duties that craft and carry out policy, promote student health, conduct psychological tests and enforce attendance laws.
Attendance and health includes school nurses, psychological services, hearing testing and staff who deal with compulsory attendance.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972