SACRAMENTO -- A new report that says California schools shortchanged classroom spending even as education budgets increased has sparked criticism from educational leaders who say the report paints a distorted picture of the financial challenges districts face.
The report released Monday by Pepperdine University shows K-12 expenditures rose 22 percent between 2003-04 and 2008-09, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion. During that period, classroom spending declined from 59 percent to 57.8 percent, according to the study.
Researchers in the university's Davenport Institute of Public Policy calculated classroom spending based on salaries and benefits for teachers and classroom aides, books, materials, supplies and consulting related to instruction or special education. Researchers said many districts spent a large percentage of their budgets on non-classroom costs, such as administrators' salaries, travel, conferences and consulting unrelated to instruction.
"We felt it was important to have an honest debate about the facts out there," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, which funded the study along with the California Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation.
The report extended a previous study by Pepperdine in July, which included a smaller sampling of districts. The new report included about 950 of the state's approximately 1,000 K-12 districts, said Pepperdine professor Steven Frates.
The California Association of School Business Officials and the nonpartisan California Budget Project have criticized the report. The groups fault the researchers' definition of "classroom spending" because it didn't include building maintenance, food services, curriculum development, professional development, principals, counselors, librarians or nurses, which they say support instructional efforts.
"The Pepperdine report does not give an accurate view of what is being spent directly on or directly in support of classrooms in California schools," said Molly McGee-Hewitt, executive director of the business officials association, in a prepared statement.
Critics also said the report ignored current realities in the schools, which have seen $18 billion slashed from their expected revenues in the past three years.
"If you look at current budgets, you would probably see a lot more cuts to the central office," said Dennis Meyers, assistant executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. "You've seen class sizes increase and teachers and classroom aides take pay cuts. Everybody's sacrificing hugely through these last couple budgets."
In Contra Costa County, classroom spending ranged from 38 percent of total expenditures in the Acalanes district to 74 percent in Brentwood, according to the report. The Walnut Creek district, which operates five elementary campuses and a middle school, compared favorably to others in the region and state with 71 percent of its budget going to classroom expenses.
"This is a conservative school board, and I think we've tried to funnel the money appropriately," said Superintendent Patricia Wool. "I'm pleased that the study showed that."
Alameda County district classroom spending ranged from 44 percent of total operating costs in Castro Valley to 72 percent in the Sunol Glen district.
Spending per student rose statewide from $7,734 in 2003-04 to $9,673 in 2007-08, before dropping in 2008-09 to $9,657, according to the report.
In Contra Costa County, spending per student in 2008-09 ranged from $7,093 in Brentwood to $14,798 in Acalanes. Alameda County district spending per student ranged from $8,331 in Dublin to $19,094 in Berkeley. Oakland spent $12,946 per student.
Researchers also compared spending per student for non-classroom expenses, such as consultants, travel and conferences, with classroom-related items such as books and supplies.
In the East Bay, spending on books and textbooks in 2008-09 ranged from $23 in San Leandro to $166 in Hayward, while spending for consultants varied from $274 per student in Lafayette to $2,389 in Oakland.
The study also looked at salary increases compared to California per capita personal income, which rose 15 percent over the study period. Frates called the index "a surrogate for inflation," but the California Budget Project said it didn't accurately reflect rising schools costs such as employee health benefits.
In more than half of districts statewide, including Alameda, John Swett and West Contra Costa, salaries and benefits for both administrators and teachers rose by more than 15 percent.
"This informs a more specific discussion of how districts allocate their funds," Frates said.
McGee-Hewitt acknowledged the study would prompt districts to look at spending priorities. But she also said the report appeared to be "front-loaded with assumptions and definitions that are intended to divert attention away from the devastating budget cuts that have occurred recently and skew public debate about the need to invest in public education."
A new Pepperdine University study includes an analysis of average teacher salaries in 2008-09:
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
John Swett: $55,697
Liberty Union: $64,187
Mt. Diablo: $61,095
Liberty Union: $64,187
San Ramon: $64,717
Walnut Creek: $65,472
West Contra Costa: $55,821
Berkeley: Not reported
Castro Valley: $65,030
New Haven: $80,594
San Leandro: $70,877
Sunol Glen: $62,740