Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TOP STORY >> Most area schools meet spending cap

Report Issued

All area school districts, except England, appear to be safe under Gov. Mike Huckabee’s proposed cap on administrative costs as a percentage of total budget, according to a state Education Department’s administrative cost report for the 2004—2005 school year.

But based on categories used to determine a district’s total administrative cost, Cabot and Searcy spent more supervising and administrating athletics than they did on improvement of instructional services. Supervisory and administrative costs of athletics and improvement of instructional services are two of 12 categories the education department used to calculate a district’s total administrative expenses.

All figures, according to Don Stewart, who prepared the report, are from information provided to the state by the individual districts.

Under the athletic supervisory category, Cabot listed $46,130 in administrative expenses, while Searcy has $36,358 coded to that category. Lonoke and Carlisle have no expenses listed, while Beebe has $31,256 in expenses in the athletic category.
Cabot, Beebe and Searcy all report more in their central office athletic fund than does Pulaski County Special School District, which only has $23,928 in that fund.

By comparison, North Little Rock has $151,672 in expenses in the athletic category and Little Rock has $303,812. “In districts where the athletic director wears dual hats, his salary and other expenses may be coded into a different fund,” Stewart said.

Cabot and Searcy list no expenses under the category of improvement of instructional services. Carlisle and England also have no expenses under that category, but have no expenses listed in the athletic category either.

PCSSD has $1.15 million in expenses listed under the supervision of improvement of instructional services category, while Beebe lists $119,256 in expenses.

Stewart’s report, the first of its kind to be generated for the state, tried to reflect the cost of central office administration. “We did not include the cost of principals or any other administrative personnel working at the building level,” Stewart explained.
He said many of the districts have been miscoding information and will use the results of this report to more accurately code their expenses. “I think our next report, which will be generated in September for 2005-2006, will be much more accurate and valid,” Stewart said. The governor’s idea is to cap “administrative expenses” at 7 percent of districts’ total budgets to ensure that more money is available for classroom instruction.

In the Education Department’s report, prepared by Stewart, PCSSD spent 5.13 percent of its 2000-2005 budget on administrative expenses.

Cabot was at 4.24 percent, Lonoke at 6.24 percent, Beebe at 6.14 percent, Carlisle at 5.33 percent and Searcy at 5.53 percent.

England School District, according to the report was the only area district above the proposed cap, at 7.35 percent. The governor hasn’t specified which costs would be considered administrative for purposes of complying with the cap, and there is no uniformity among districts as to which costs fall under which categories. For instance, Cabot doesn’t consider the salaries of administrators and staff as administrative costs, while some districts do.

“There’s going to have to be more specificity in what’s included,” said Julie Thompson, spokesman for the Education Department. For in-stance, “an assistant superintendent for instruction can be coded as an administrative or instructional expense.”

The state report used information reported by the districts in the categories of support-services-general administration, support services-business, supervisory operations and maintenance of plant facilities, supervisory costs of student transportation services, support services-central office and supervisory costs of attendance and social services work. The report also added in the supervisory cost of athletics, guidance services, health services, psychological services, improvement of instructional services and speech pathology and audiology services.

John Archetko, interim chief financial officer of the PCSSD, said the 2004-2005 school year budget did not include additional cuts necessitated by the district’s designation as being in fiscal distress.

Archetko said that through continual belt tightening at the central office, “I’ve lost four or five people in six years. They’ve been paring back for four or five years.”

“I think we are well under the cap with our current budget, but until we find out what the governor classifies as ‘administrative expenses’ we don’t know for certain,” said Frank Holman, superintendent of Cabot School District. School districts are waiting to see what extra expenses–such as bus transportation, operations and maintenance for facilities as well as support services–may be included in the governor’s legislation.

With the new legislation, seven percent of Cabot’s $52.6 million budget would result in about $3 million for administrative services.

“Every time you put funding in a matrix, it takes away flexibility,” Holman told The Leader. For example, Cabot School District may need a higher percentage of funding than other districts for transportation because of the large number of students bused in.

“I think we’ve always done a good job of funding classroom instruction,” Holman said.
Stewart admits the information in his report may contain inaccuracies. “We can only go by what the districts code as their expenses,” he said. But at this point, the state will use the figures generated in the report to look at districts, such as England, coming in above the 7 percent cap figure.

Leader staff writers Rick Kron, Sara Greene and John Hofheimer contributed to this report.