Administrative Spending Outpaces Teacher Salaries, Mich. Study Says

By Catherine Gewertz — February 13, 2002 2 min read

In the average Michigan school district, spending rose three times faster on central-administration costs between 1997 and 2000 than it did on teachers’ salaries, new data show.

The evaluation of Michigan schools is available from Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services. (Requires registration.)

Updated figures released by the Wall Street financial analyst Standard & Poor’s show that the amount spent on teachers’ salaries rose 5.2 percent between 1997 and 2000, compared with a 15.7 percent increase on central-office administration costs during the same period.

Standard & Poor’s, which has been hired by the state of Michigan to provide annual analyses of school data, found the rise in central-office costs notable because it happened during a period of stable school enrollment.

“One of the benefits of this service is to be able to provide data that makes it clear where there are discrepancies in spending trends,” said Jonathan Jacobson, S&P’s director of school evaluation services. “To the extent that shining a light on these discrepancies can help decisionmakers understand them and attempt to reconcile them, then I think the service is doing what it set out to do.”

The figures update 1999 data analyzed in a December report. (“Standard & Poor’s Puts Michigan Data Under Microscope,” Jan. 9, 2002.) The 2000 numbers show that central-office spending rose from $382 per student in 1997 to $442 per student in 2000. Teachers’ salaries in an average Michigan district rose from $44,522 in 1997 to $46,860 in 2000.

In some districts, the gap in the percentage increases was even greater. In Detroit, for instance, the average teacher salary rose from $56,164 to $61,814, a 10 percent increase. But central-office administration costs rose from $364 per student in 1997 to $580 per student in 2000, an increase of nearly 60 percent.

Margaret Trimer- Hartley, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, which represents 157,000 teachers and support-staff members in the state, said that because each district’s circumstances vary, it is hard to generalize about what is reasonable spending on central-office administration and teachers’ salaries.

Still, the figures raised concern at the union.

“We feel very strongly that in crafting budgets for public school districts, the most important expenditures are those closest to children and the classroom,” Ms. Trimer-Hartley said. “Buying good-quality teachers is a good investment in students. Schools will see the returns in achievement, which is what districts exist for in the first place.”

Other Trends

A number of other academic trends also were of interest in Standard & Poor’s 2000 figures.

For the third year, the numbers of students taking the Advanced Placement program in the average Michigan school district increased, a trend Mr. Jacobson called “encouraging news.”

More students also took the state’s standardized tests, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, in 2000, after two consecutive years of declining participation. Mr. Jacobson speculated that the increase might be due in part to the introduction of the Michigan Merit Award Program, which offers incentives for taking the MEAP.

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Administrative Spending Outpaces Teacher Salaries, Mich. Study Says