School districts around the state may have vastly different budgeting priories and operating fund amounts, but they have one thing in common — people are by far the biggest cost.
Personnel costs typically make up somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of a schools’ operating fund, and about half of that money goes to the teachers, according to a Juneau Empire analysis.
An analysis of four school districts — Juneau, Ketchikan, Kenai and Fairbanks — showed that personnel costs are separated by a number of categories: instruction, special education, school administrative and support staff, and district-level staff. Also included are various support categories.
Still, individual districts budget slightly differently in terms of what each line item represents. For example, the Juneau School District pays for the extra-duty contracts for coaches out of a separate fund while the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District includes those contracts in the main operating fund.
As cuts to education budgets across the state have persisted in recent years, districts are running out of things to cut outside of personnel.
“It’s always been, ‘Keep the cuts as far away from the classrooms as possible,’” said Mike Fisher, the chief financial officer in Fairbanks. “Last year was the first time we’ve raised class sizes in many years.”
Juneau has cut about 100 employees over the past few years, and will have to slash 35 positions this year if additional funding doesn’t come from the state legislature.
The state’s largest district, Anchorage, also recently announced plans to cut more than 200 positions in the coming year.
All data included below refers to the districts’ budgeted positions and costs for the 2013-2014 school year.
Money for the teachers
Teachers make up just over 40 percent of JSD’s workforce, and they are compensated with about 47 percent of Juneau’s approximately $70 million directed to personnel.
That 47 percent figure is the lowest portion of personnel spending going to teachers in the four operating budgets analyzed. The other three districts each direct more than half of their personnel dollars to instruction, and Kenai tops the list at 53 percent.
“We’ve been more interested in benefits, because that puts more money to the teachers’ checkbooks,” said David Means, the director of administrative services at JSD.
The average total compensation for a teacher in Juneau — including salary, benefits and state-funded retirement — comes out to $127,400. That number comes in just behind Fairbanks, where teachers average just north of $133,000 a year in total compensation.
Still, salaries for teachers and most positions aren’t decisions that are made during the budgeting process each spring, Means said.
“Salaries don’t come through the budget, those come through the negotiation process,” he said.
There are, however, processes in place where the district can alter a specific position’s compensation should it chose, Means added.
Average compensation numbers for individuals were not readily available to be computed for Kenai and Ketchikan.
Cost of running the district office
Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks direct about the same percentage of personnel dollars to the district office — which for this analysis includes district administration and its support staff.
The trio put about 4 percent of those dollars to the district-level staff, with Fairbanks spending the highest percentage at 4.78 percent. Juneau ranked second at 4.61 percent.
However, the average total compensation for the 24 positions budgeted as district-level staff in Juneau is $134,262, which is higher than Fairbanks’ average compensation of just under $131,000.
The total budget for Juneau’s district-level personnel expenses is about $3.2 million. Fairbanks’ is $9.4, and Kenai is just under $5 million. Ketchikan spends less than a million on district-level staffing.
Special education compensation soars
Juneau leads the quartet in how much of the budget is funneled toward the salaries and benefits for the teachers tasked with helping special needs students.
It also has the highest percentage of employees focused on special education.
Nearly a quarter of Juneau’s personnel expenditures go to special education teachers and support staff who make up a combined 29 percent of JSD employees. Their average salary and benefits package is about $96,000 a year.
Special education personnel make up about 22 percent of the workforce in Fairbanks and they are compensated with about 17 percent of personnel spending for an average compensation of $90,800.
Ketchikan and Kenai direct 17 and 20 percent of their personnel expenditures to the special education workforce, respectively.
School principals pay
School administrators are the most well-compensated group in the analysis of the JSD’s personnel spending. The group of 15 principals make up just over 2 percent of the workforce, yet they are compensated with over 4 percent of the personnel money.
In Juneau, that translates to total compensation packages averaging nearly $189,000. Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich’s total compensation package is just over $200,000, the Empire previously reported.
A similar rate occurs in Fairbanks, where school administrators make up 2.57 percent of the workforce and bring in 4.31 percent of the money. The average compensation for a school administrator in Fairbanks is $192,000.
Average salaries for Ketchikan and Kenai were not available, but the duo outspend Juneau and Fairbanks — in terms of the percentage of personnel expenditures used for school administrators.
Ketchikan gives school administrators the largest percentage of the personnel pool at 6.11 percent, and Kenai is close behind at 5.71 percent.
Support staff pay varies widely
More than one-in-five employees with the JSD work in roles classified in this analysis as “support,” and the district directs about that same percentage of its personnel costs to the group.
Support staff includes librarians, counselors, food staff, janitors, school office staff and other positions.
Certificated employees — those with teaching degrees — who fall under this category in Juneau have an average annual salary of $113,000 not counting benefits. The average for non-certificated employees is $53,000 before benefits are factored in.
Both certificated and non-certificated average salaries in Fairbanks are lower than Juneau at $99,000 and $47,000, respectively. Nearly one-in-three Fairbanks employees fall under this category, and they are compensated with about 23 percent of the pool.
Kenai gives its support workers just under 17 percent of the personnel budget.