While not the most expensive part of a school budget, administrative costs eat up about $1 of every $10 spent per pupil for general purposes and have been rising.
The Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending released earlier this month by the state Department of Education calculated a statewide average of $1,639 budgeted per pupil for administration in the current school year. That’s slightly more than last year and about 5 percent higher than in 2013-2014, the data shows.
Administrative costs per pupil made up almost 11 percent of the average statewide “budgetary cost per pupil.” This total includes classroom, extracurricular activity, maintenance, and other expenses found in virtually all districts, but excludes pension payments, transportation, capital outlay, and other costs that can vary widely. The statewide average budgetary cost rose by about the same percentage as administrative spending did, to nearly $15,300.
The guide did not report a grand total budgeted for the current school year. Last year, the average New Jersey district spent close to $19,700 per student in total, including pension and other payments.
This is the 20th year for the guide, published as a way to allow the public to understand spending within a district and compare it to districts of similar size and type.
Administrative costs per pupil are highest in the special-service districts that serve disabled students and in vocational districts, where overall expenses tend to be highest. Topping all districts was Warren County Special Services, which expects to spend nearly $7,500 per pupil on administration. Just three districts — the K-6 West Cape May and Washington Borough, Warren County, districts, and Lacey, a K-12 district — are spending less than $1,000 per pupil on administrative costs this year.
The portion of the budget that funds administrative costs differs greatly among districts, ranging from a low of 4 percent in Avalon to nearly 40 percent in the Freedom Prep Charter School in Camden. Of the 50 districts setting aside the highest percentage of their budgets for administration, charter schools held 49 spots. This is because they tend to be smaller than average districts but still have at least a chief administrator and other costs.
Salaries and benefits for superintendents, principals, and other administrative staff are the largest chunk of the administration budget, comprising roughly 80 percent of the average administrative outlay statewide, or more than $1,300 per pupil this year, the data shows. Salem County Special Services budgeted the most on administrative salaries — $6,270 per pupil. At the other extreme, Burlington County’s K-8 Washington Township district is spending just $47 per student on salaries and benefits for administrators.