letter to the editor

By SHAD WHITE,

Dear Editor:

Last month, my office published a study showing, among other things, that the percentage of money spent on administrative costs in K-12 public schools rose faster than the percentage of money spent on instruction over the last 10 years. Administrative spending rose despite the fact that the number of teachers and students in Mississippi public schools decreased. The report pointed out that, if administrative spending had been held constant over the last 10 years, spending on things like teachers' salaries could be much higher.

This newspaper questioned two features of that report: 1) whether my office ignored that some administrative spending was required and could not have been reallocated to instruction and 2) whether we made a mistake in not adjusting every number for inflation. 

I have bad news: If you address those concerns, the numbers don't get any prettier. For instance, if you just examined the money spent on administrative salaries and compared it to the money spent on teachers' salaries, you find that spending on teachers' salaries fell by three percent while spending on administrator salaries increased by 10 percent (and those numbers are adjusted for inflation).

Maybe those administrator salaries had to increase so districts could comply with federal and state mandates, you ask. Then let’s put the facts about how much salaries increased on the table, name the mandates, and start questioning whether those salaries and mandates are necessary. Ignoring the facts is not a helpful approach.

We all know the truth: administrative spending needs to be checked. It's growing faster than instructional spending, and that's true no matter the amount of ostrich-style hiding one tries to do.

The growth in administrative spending is also why Jackson Public Schools' new superintendent announced three weeks ago that he had found $1 million in administrative waste in that school system. Leaders like Dr. Greene aren’t willing to hide in the sand. They’re tackling the problem, and we need more of that.

There’s no doubt that this truth about administrative spending makes some people uncomfortable. My job is not to make you feel comfortable. My job is to discuss the facts--real data--that underlie our government so we can have a better discussion about policy. And if the facts show that teachers have been shortchanged relative to administrators, I'm willing to be the one to point that out. If for no other reason, I'm willing to point that out because my mother taught in Mississippi public schools for 35 years, on her feet, every day. She even taught me for several of those years, and I was probably her most annoying student. Teachers need to know where the money is going. As do taxpayers.

Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi.

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