Compared to Georgia districts with a similar amount of students, Hall County Schools has the second-lowest spent per student, but school leaders say multiple factors affect how much is spent.
That amount, according to a fiscal year 2012 financial report on the Georgia Department of Education’s website, is $7,506.37, a division of total costs by number of pupils.
The general administration expenditures were listed at $9.9 million, second-highest among similarly sized school systems, according to the same report. Those expenditures include not only district leadership but all central office employees. The number also includes other items, depending on how expenditures are coded, which varies between districts, Superintendent Will Schofield said.
“Districts are spending millions of dollars putting technology into classrooms,” Schofield said. “Some districts will code that as an instructional expense. We code that as an administrative expense. So, all of a sudden you get a tremendous variation.”
The more accurate general administration number is $640,795, according to Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett. That number includes salaries, benefits and some office supplies for select central office employees including Schofield, Lovett and a secretarial position.
Lovett explained that when the state releases general administration expenditure numbers, they also add in other items that fall under support services and business services.
“It has to do with how people code things in those areas,” Lovett said.
“There’s a lot of leeway that local districts have in terms of how they code their expenditures,” Schofield agreed.
Both men said the total per student expenditure is a more accurate way to look at school expenses than looking at a per student cost under general administration.
“The thing that does not lie at the end of the day is the total per pupil expenditures,” Schofield said. “At the end of the year, we spend a certain amount of money (per student) regardless of what box we put it in.”
Schofield said demographics can play a role in the numbers as well.
“It’s a very different task educating 30 children, nine of whom don’t speak the English language, seven of whom are special education and two-thirds who got on the bus from a place of poverty,” Schofield said.
Both men pointed to Whitfield County as a smaller district population-wise, but similar in the types of students. Whitfield’s total expenditures per student were $7,696.69, comparable to Hall’s.
Schofield said there are always ways to be more efficient, but he believes the school system has trimmed down to the barest minimum. In fact, he pointed out that nearly 16 district-level positions have either been eliminated or reduced by half over the past few years.
Since 2008, the numbers of students in the system has increased by a little more than 1,000, while 275 teachers across the system lost jobs.
Employed teachers received a $600 raise this year, and are also working four more days this year than last year, though students will only receive instruction 176 days out of the 180.
Schofield himself earned right under $176,000 in the 2012 fiscal year, not including travel, which is the lowest salary out of the comparably sized districts.
Salaries for others in administrative positions ranged from around $75,000 to $125,000.
With some outliers, teacher salaries were at $35,000 to $65,000.
Salary information was pulled for fiscal 2012 from the Open Georgia website, open.georgia.gov.
“When you look at the fact that we are the lowest per pupil expenditure in our (Regional Educational Service Agency) area, yet we have the second highest teacher salaries, I mean, we can argue all day long about whether general liability should have gone under general administration or student support,” Schofield continued. “That gets to be the challenge of people going to the (state DOE) website and trying to find a lot of information.”
Schofield said that what’s most important is being able to offer competitive salaries to teachers, and comparing that cost on a per-student basis.
“I think we all want efficiency,” Schofield said. “But there comes a point when you can become so efficient that you start to get at that point of diminishing return. And I would say we’re getting to that point in education.”