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Classroom Dollars

Student artwork Lake Havasu Unified classroom and nonclassroom spending per latest Arizona Auditor General's report.

At a governing board meeting on 3/23/2010, director of business services Missy Wood handed out copies of the latest Arizona Auditor General's report on school district dollars spent in the classroom. It said Lake Havasu Unified spent 40.5% of its budget on nonclassroom expenses. These nonclassroom expenses are sometimes called administrative expenses.

Lake Havasu Unified officials are proud of that 40.5% figure, but some people hear it and are upset. They assume it means 40.5% of the budget is spent on district office staff and building principals. So is spending 40.5% on "nonclassroom expenses" a good thing or a bad thing? What is the real story?

The auditor general has specific things that can be counted as classroom expenses and specific things that are considered nonclassroom, and sometimes the distinctions defy common sense. Here is an explanation from one of their documents.

Classroom dollars are those spent for instructional purposes as defined by the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), and include the following:

Classroom Dollars

  • Classroom personnel: Teachers, teacher's aides, substitute teachers, graders, and guest lecturers.
  • General instructional supplies: Paper, pencils, crayons, etc.
  • Instructional aids: Textbooks, workbooks, software, films, etc.
  • Activities: Field trips, athletics, and cocurricular activities such as choir and band.
  • Tuition: Paid to out-of-state and private institutions.

Current expenditures that are not considered instructional, and therefore not considered in the classroom, include the following:

Nonclassroom Dollars

  • Administration: Superintendents; principals; business managers; and clerical and other staff who perform accounting, payroll, purchasing, warehousing, printing, human resources activities, and information technology services.
  • Plant operation and maintenance: Heating and cooling, equipment repair, groundskeeping, and security.
  • Food Service: Costs of preparing and serving meals and snacks.
  • Transportation: Costs of transporting students to and from school and school activities.
  • Instructional staff support services: Librarians, teacher training, instruction-related technology, and curriculum development.
  • Student support services: Counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, and nurses

Librarians, counselors, nurses, food service, transportation, equipment repair, groundskeeping, heating and cooling—none of these are defined as classroom expenses, but they can impact student achievement, health, and safety.

The report that said LHUSD spends 40.5% of its money on nonclassroom expenses went on to characterize our nonclassroom expenses as "low" compared to peer districts (districts of similar size) and the state average. (The report also shows our student achievement levels in math, reading, and writing are higher than those of peer districts and the state averages. It also says that our district receives less money per student than peer districts or the state average.)

So, if you consider that nonclassroom or administrative expenses include more than you may have thought, and that our district's nonclassroom expenses are characterized as low by the state auditor general, you might understand why we are proud of the number 40.5.