Community Post

Seattle Schools says overhead costs were miscalculated

Last fall we told you about Meg Diaz’s report on the Seattle School District budget and how her analysis showed that the district was spending much more on central administration that other comparable districts in the state.

This week a commenter reminded us that it needed follow-up, so we got the latest details from Diaz, who sent us the district’s formal response to her analysis (attached as a PDF above). 

The district’s finance team found that:

  • They had been miscoding some expenses as being overhead when other districts assign those costs to classroom instruction. The biggest item was teacher coaching, which was 111 employees and $10.3 million
  • Another 29 employees were incorrectly coded as supervisors
  • Fixing the miscoding brought central administration costs to $33.4 million, or 6% of total expenses
  • The statewide average for admin costs is 7% of expenses
  • Central Administration costs have increased 1.6% in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1998

The district issued some new budgeting rules and now the teacher coaching costs are reported the same way as other districts. But Meg Diaz claims that the Seattle School’s budget for coaching is still high when compared to other large districts, saying in an email:

Districts like Lake Washington, Tacoma and Bellevue have a lower proportional coaching investment (adjusting for the size of the district compared to SPS)…

I’m not against coaching. There are numerous papers about its potential as a professional development strategy. However, I think that SPS has its priorities out of whack when it protects its professional development staff/spending ahead of the professionals working directly with children. Rebuilding a much-reduced professional development program would still be easier than recovering a couple of years of inadequate education in any individual student’s time in the system. I hope that made sense. If it didn’t, please ask for clarification.

Diaz’s updated analysis (also attached above) shows that a change in budgeting priorities could shift $4 million or more from coaching to things like reducing class sizes. In addition, she raises concerns that coaching expenses increased 8% in 2009-10, even while classroom spending declined by $2 million over the same period.

0 thoughts on “Seattle Schools says overhead costs were miscalculated

  1. The school district’s explanation for the bloated central administration was that the costs for central administration had been miscalculated. And who miscalculated them? Not Ms Diaz. It was the school district staff themselves who did so. It was they who “miscoded” the expenses. And they did it knowingly since they presented different numbers to the Board and the public than they presented to the state on official reports. Oh, wait, if you knowingly make a mistake then it isn’t a mistake, is it? They didn’t miscalculate the numbers, they intentionally misreported them.