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The typical New Jersey school district spent nearly $20,000 per student last year, and the typical teacher received more than $61,000, new data from the state Department of Education shows.
On Thursday, the DOE released its annual Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending, which breaks out spending per pupil on such budget categories as classroom instruction, legal services, food service, extracurricular activities, and administrative costs — in addition to total budget figures and median salaries.
This is the guide’s 20th year. It was first released in 1997 as the Comparative Spending Guide; state officials would put the data out in the spring shortly before school elections. Today, few districts still hold budget elections because the state changed the law in 2012, but the department still releases the data to give the public an easy way to see spending within a district and compare that to districts of similar size and type.
“This annual spending guide has been a valuable source of clear, useful data on our schools for taxpayers throughout the state,” said Commissioner of Education David Hespe in a statement on releasing the data. “The guide includes a full accounting for all dollars spent on our schools, providing a complete picture of school spending.”
For the 2014-2015 school year, the average total spent per pupil was $19,652, 2.2 percent higher than the previous year’s total. This amount includes pension payments made by the state and other costs that vary by district.
Education officials say a better comparative spending measure is the total budgetary cost per pupil, which excludes pension payments, transportation, capital outlay, and other costs that can vary widely among districts. Last year, the budget total was $14,736, or just 1.3 percent more than in 2013-2014.
There is a wide range of spending among districts; eight of the 10 biggest spenders are special-service districts that serve students with disabilities. At top, again, was Bergen County Special Services, which spent more than $95,000 per pupil and had about 675 students. The non-special district that spent the most was Avalon in Cape May, which spent nearly $64,000 on each of 77 students. Avalon ranked as third-biggest spender in the state.
By contrast, 18 of the 19 lowest spenders were charter schools, with Classical Academy Charter in Passaic County, the only district in the state spending a grand total of less than $10,000 per pupil last year.
The comparative budgetary per-pupil total ranged from a high of $83,313 in Bergen Special Services to a low of $7,435 in the Vineland Public Charter School.
In addition to the spending categories, the guide includes median salary data, which is current as budgeted for the 2015-2016 school year. The median teacher salary in the state is less than $62,000, about 1.3 percent higher than was spent last year. The teacher median, or the midpoint between the lowest and highest salary, varies widely throughout the state, as well. The lowest median was slightly less than $41,000 in the East Newark elementary district. The highest was more than twice that — more than $95,000 in the Northern Valley Regional high-school district.
The statewide median administrator salary this year is not quite double that for teachers, or about $112,000. That is slightly less than the 2014-2015 median. The Franklin borough elementary district in Sussex County had the highest median administrator’s salary of more than $167,000. In three-quarters of all districts, the administrators’ median salary was $100,000 or higher.