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June 29, 2014

Are Oklahoma schools top-heavy?

NORMAN — The population of Le Flore County in southeastern Oklahoma is less than a tenth of Oklahoma County’s population. Yet Le Flore has 17 school districts compared to Oklahoma County’s 15.

At Reydon Public Schools in western Oklahoma, the superintendent makes $116,000 a year, including benefits, to oversee one of the smallest districts in the state, at 124 students. That’s $936 per student, compared to $6 for Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, the highest paid superintendent this year, making $260,000.

For years, conservative legislators and others have decried what they say are high administrative costs in Oklahoma districts and schools. They say the state’s K-12 system is top-heavy and wasteful. And they point to this as a reason not to increase Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding to levels found in most other states, and to expand school-choice options such as charter schools.

Oklahoma Watch took an in-depth look at federal and state data on administrative and classroom costs in district schools. The data show that compared with other states, Oklahoma spends a high percentage of its budget on district administration and a low percentage on instruction. Oklahoma spends just above the national average on school administration.

In 2011-2012, Oklahoma ranked sixth among states in percentage of funds spent on district administration, at 3.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those costs include superintendent pay, the school board, support staff and related office expenses.

The state ranked 16th in proportion spent on school administration, at 5.4 percent. That includes salaries and other staff costs.

In instruction, which includes teacher pay, the state ranked 40th, at 52 percent. The national average is 55 percent.

The measures don’t necessarily mean that most districts and schools in Oklahoma are rolling in administrative fat.

The state is one of the leanest spenders on common education in the nation, ranking 48th in per-pupil spending.

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