A Kansas school board president complains about funding, but the district has been able to grow employment faster than enrollment.
A newspaper article features the Lawrence school board president complaining about school funding. (Advocates rally for school funding amid competing claims about cuts, March 14 Lawrence Journal World)
There are competing claims. Some look at total spending. Others, as noted in the article, say analysis of spending must be nuanced by consideration of “special education, retirement fund contributions and aid for special budget funds such as bond and interest funds and capital outlay.”
The same article also notes: “But because lawmakers converted school funding to a block grant system last year, combining several different kinds of aid into a single grant, exact comparisons to previous years are difficult to make.”
All this is true to some extent. But there is a way to clear some of the fog, and that is to look at the number of employees in a school district compared to the number of students.
Schools tell us that their largest expenditure is on personnel costs. Across the country, the portion of current expenditures going to salaries and benefits hovers around 80 percent. 1
So looking at the number of employees tells us a lot — almost everything, in fact — about how the school district is faring.
When we look, we find that starting in 2011 the number of employees in the Lawrence school district has risen faster than the number of students. (The count is divided into certified employees and K-12 teachers, and does not include special education teachers.) Correspondingly, the ratios of these employees has fallen over the same period. The pupil-teacher ratio has fallen from 17.28 to 15.47, and the certified employee-pupil ratio has fallen from 11.70 to 10.85.
So however spending is compartmentalized, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Lawrence school district has been able to improve its employee-pupil ratios substantially.