The state Education Department is looking into the reason three Oklahoma school districts went over the legal limit for administrative costs.
While state workers continue to investigate, one thing is certain: All cases are related to superintendent salaries.
State law limits how much school districts can spend on administrative costs, such as superintendents, secretaries and consultants.
The law exists to protect students, said Joel Robison, chief of staff for the state Education Department.
“The desire is to get as much money into the classroom as possible for instructional purposes,” Robison said.
The districts with excessive amounts are:
• Cameron, in Le Flore County, $58,000 because of a superintendent contract buyout.
• Thackerville, in Love County, $29,000 because of a superintendent contract buyout.
• Farris, in Atoka County, $10,000 because of superintendent salary.
Last month, the state Board of Education asked Nancy Hughes, the executive director of financial accounting, and her team to investigate what is going on in each of the districts. Hughes said that inquiry continues. The board is expected to revisit the issue at its next board meeting, which will be Jan. 31.
If a district spends too much on administration, the board has the right to withhold the amount of excess from state aid to that district the next year, Hughes said.
Administrative costs include pay for superintendents, secretaries and other central office staff members, Hughes said. Legal services don’t count, but consulting services do.
State law outlines how much a school district can spend on administrative costs depending on how many students attend that district, Hughes said.
Districts with 500 or fewer students can spend 8 percent of the budget on administrative costs. Districts with 501 to 1,500 students can spend up to 7 percent. Districts with more than 1,500 students are limited to 5 percent.
Big districts have big budgets, so folding in administrative costs is easier. Smaller districts are given more wiggle room because they have smaller budgets, Hughes said.
Regardless of size, districts rarely exceed the limits set by state law, said Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators.
Those that do are usually forgiven because of extenuating circumstances, Crawford said.
State laws set specific minimum salaries for teachers based on tenure and education, but similar guidelines are not set out for administrators, Crawford said. So superintendent pay varies widely.
“They’re usually set on size and responsibility and job duties, and they vary from district to district,” he said. “There’s no set pattern you’ll find.”
In smaller districts, superintendents often pick up extra jobs — everything from teaching classes to cleaning up to driving a bus.
“As you grow in size, you add people to get the job done,” Crawford said. “The job gets bigger but you have additional staff.”
Eliminating administrators doesn’t necessarily make districts more efficient, Crawford said.
“Consolidation is a local issue,” Crawford said.
“It should be based on quality of education, not administrative costs. There’s no real savings for the state or the community in administrative costs. Most likely, if any savings occur, it would occur because of (fewer) teaching positions.”