As the legal battle over school funding plays out in the ConVal lawsuit trial in the Rockingham Superior Court this week, new data show the massive increase in school spending is tied to the nearly 60 percent increase in the number of district administrators.
School superintendents are among the highest-paid public employees in the state, with salaries more than double that of the average teacher. That is certainly the case in the Contoocook Valley Regional School District, which is currently in court demanding more state funding.
According to data compiled by the New Hampshire Department of Education, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders’s salary is more than $171,000 a year. That makes her one of the highest-paid superintendents in the state.
A study released this week by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy showed taxpayer spending on New Hampshire school districts rose by $1.5 billion over the last 30 years even as the number of students fell by 14 percent. Even adjusting for inflation, taxpayers poured in an additional $937 million to educate fewer kids.
“This massive spending increase–40 percent when adjusted for inflation–occurred as public school enrollment was cratering. From 2001-2019, New Hampshire district public school enrollments fell by more than 29,946 students or 14 percent,” the report stated.
It was particularly true for administrative costs. According to the report, that 14 percent drop in enrollment was accompanied by a 15 percent increase in district administrative staffing.
“Adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending increased 83 percent for support services, 82 percent for general administration, [and] 74 percent for school administration.”
At the same time, school spending — mostly paid for by property taxpayers — rose from $37.3 million a year to more than $47 million, an increase of 26 percent.
The numbers don’t lie, said Ben Scafidi, the author of the report and a professor of Economics at Kennesaw State University and director of the school’s Education Economics Center. “Taxpayers are spending more money on fewer students,” he said.
The problem isn’t teacher pay, which has risen modestly. Instead, one of the biggest cost drivers in public schools has been the number of district-level administrators and staff, up 57 percent, Scafidi said. They are employees who do not teach and who generally do not interact with students.
“Most of the spending increase went outside the classroom,” Scafidi told WFEA radio’s Drew Cline Wednesday. Cline is also the president of the Josiah Bartlett Center.
While the number of students dropped 14 percent, the number of school principals overseeing their education dropped by just two percent.
“It’s very out of whack with the decrease in students,” Scafidi said.
In the same period, schools were beefing up spending and losing students, and the rest of New Hampshire’s government was growing at a much smaller pace, Scafidi said. He said that public colleges and universities saw an 8 percent increase in the number of students and responded with a more than 7 percent increase in staff. All other state agencies grew by about 1.2 percent, with more than 300 employees, even though the state population went up 8 percent.
New Hampshire is now spending thousands more per pupil than other states; he said, around $3,900 more. The average state spending per pupil is close to $19,000. This hasn’t stopped districts like ConVal from fighting the state for more per-pupil spending.
The state sends nearly $4,000 per pupil to each school district as part of the adequate education grants. ConVal’s lawsuit claims the real cost of the constitutionally mandated adequate education is much higher, and it wants the state to send $10,000 per pupil.
In addition to Rizzo Sanders’ $171,000 a year — which puts her in the top bracket of school superintendents — the assistant ConVal superintendent earns more than $141,000. That’s more than many superintendents in nearby districts, where the pay ranges from about $100,000 to $150,000.
Not that ConVal is at the top of the heap for administrative salaries.
Hanover’s superintendent brings in $178,000, and Nashu pays its superintendent $172,500. Oyster River’s superintendent is the top earner, taking home more than $192,000.
Part of the blame for the increase in the number of outside-the-classroom administrators falls on state and federal governments issuing rules and mandates for local schools.
“Public schools get funding from the federal government, the state government, and local property taxes,” Sacfidi said. “You have many layers of government telling schools what to do, and each layer of government has its preferences, and they impose them on public schools.”
According to Sacfidi, the result is more taxpayer money going to schools that teach fewer students, and more of that money goes to employees who do not step inside the classrooms as part of their jobs.