Report shows more spending in Delaware classrooms

Reports showing how Delaware’s schools spent their money in the 2010-2011 school year are out, and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn says the results are encouraging. 

Denn’s third annual reports reveal how school districts spend taxpayer dollars, with the ultimate goal of encouraging schools to spend more in the classroom and less in administrative overhead.

Public school districts, Seaford and Caesar Rodney, show the most direct spending for students, with Polytech leading the pack of three among the state’s vocational technical school districts.

“The good news in this report, as compared to the prior two that we did, is that there is much less of a gap between the schools in terms of the percentage of their dollars that are going into direct educational expenses,” Denn said.

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In the prior two years, Denn’s office calculated if all of the school districts directed funds towards the classroom at the same ratios as the districts with the five highest percentages, over $28 million additional dollars could have been spent directly on students, instead of administrative expenses. This year, however, that figure is $21,133,243, a 26% improvement over the prior school year.

“So when we see the gap narrowing, that is a sign to us that some of the districts are making more of an effort, ones who are on the lower end of the chart, to try to do better,” said Denn.

Following federal guidelines, the classroom spending category is broad, and includes salaries for teachers and speech pathologists, for example. Administrative expenses, Denn says, are costs tied to things and people not in the classroom with students. Other categories, like bus, food and energy costs are not reflected in Lt. Gov. Denn’s spending charts.

“Some of the districts have indicated that they think that there are factors unique to their district that cause them to have higher administrative expenses. And then for some districts, they’ve simply made a decision that spending on particular administrative expenses is good for the students overall,” Denn said, pointing out the Red Clay Consolidated School District as an example. During the 2010-2011 school year, the district decided to hire assistant principals, a move it says helps teachers teach better and the schools run more efficiently.

“What we’re trying to do with this chart and this report is simply give parents the tools, and taxpayers the tools, to ask questions of their superintendents and of their school board members, ‘Why are we where we are on this list,’ and hopefully get an explanation that they can analyze and see if it makes sense,” said Denn.

For charter schools, as in last year’s report, most spent a lower percentage of their total dollars on direct educational services than traditional public school districts. However, almost all of the state’s charter schools spent a higher percentage of their funds on direct educational expenses in 2010-2011 than in the prior year.

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