Where does the money go?
By Michael Fisher
This report will detail how the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) currently spend our money. It will point out current spending priorities. And finally, this report will show how the identical amount of money could be better spent on educating children.
The major findings of this report can be summarized as follows:
- The entire 1989-90 MPS budget, $575,760,405, divided by the full-time equivalent (FTE) number of MPS students, yields a $6,451 per-pupil expenditure. Only a small portion of this $6,451 per-pupil cost finds its way into the elementary classroom (26%).
- Of this $6,451 per-pupil expenditure, only $3,659 or 57% of per-pupil costs is spent in the average MPS elementary school. This $3,659 covers the food, maintenance, utilities, books, supplies, equipment, furniture and fringe benefits. It contains the salaries of everyone who works in the school–from the engineer to the substitute teacher, from the cook to the principal, from the aides to the cleaning staff and all of the teachers including the specialists, the exceptional, and the regular classroom teacher.
- Despite claims to the contrary, the proportion of MPS money going to instruction has been diminishing as a percentage of the total budget over the last two decades. Using an inclusive definition of instruction, instructional spending has dropped from 70 percent of the budget in 1968, to 55 percent in 1978, 48 percent in 1988, and to 45 percent in 1989.
- The MPS budget has grown enormously from $276 million in 1978-79 to $575 million in 1989-90. The total MPS budget has increased by 88%, administrative spending has increased by 99.6% and business functions have increased by 123% between 1978 and 1988. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, have increased by 77% (83% including fringe benefits) during the same time period. The inflation rate during this ten-year time period was 86%. In other words, teachers are not the major cause of budget increases, but instead are paid less in real dollars than they were in 1978.
- When MPS states higher instructional spending figures (which it will), one must carefully check what MPS considers as instructional spending. For example, when MPS says that 63% of total funding is spent on instruction, it considers these expenses as instruction: the administrators, supervisors and all of the administrative costs of eight central office departments–Curriculum and Instruction, Exceptional Education, Staff Development, Student Assignment and others–the equipping and constructing of the community superintendent’s offices, food and hotel rentals for administrative meetings, all of the administrative expenses of the Compact for Educational Opportunity (Chapter 220 overseers), and 60% of consultants’ fees (including many of Charles Willie’s fees, the author of the new student assignment Long-range Educational Equity Plan, or LEEP report).
- MPS currently spends $0.21 per elementary pupil per year on science supplies and books, $65 per elementary pupil for all supplies, materials, books, furniture and equipment, $800 per pupil for transportation ($2,000 per Chapter 220 pupil), and $943 per pupil for administration.
- There are over thirteen hundred administrative personnel in MPS. This translates into one person in administration for every four teachers. Such a ratio implies a severe distrust of teachers and indicates an absurd relationship. Such distrust does not bring out the best performance in teachers or in anyone else.
- Even when many items are excluded which could be considered as at least partial administrative expenses, total administrative spending is over $84 million. This is twice as much as MPS spends on transportation.
- The bureaucratic needs of the MPS use up an incredible proportion of the system’s resources. Yet evidence exists that schools, in order to be effective, must find a way around this bureaucratic structure.
- If a way could be found to directly fund our schools rather than our school system, we could do all of the following without spending any more money:
- lower all class sizes to fifteen students per class;
- give a $10,000 raise to every school staff member;
- have an additional three full-time art, drama, computer, science, music or physical education specialists per school;
- have an additional two full-time psychologists, social workers or counselors per school;
- multiply by three the current supplies and book budget per school.
This would put each MPS school over the suburban school level of spending per child in each of the above areas rather than below the suburban level in each area as it is currently. Increasing student achievement would be much more likely.