E.J. McMahon is a rāra avis in Albany — a reliable voice of reason.
As the Empire Center for Public Policy’s research director, McMahon focuses on improving New York’s economic competitiveness and promoting greater transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility in state and local government.
This past summer, the Empire Center published a revealing study of school-district spending across the state, noting that New York has nearly 700 local school districts — the fourth most of any state. The July 26 report bore no byline, but it clearly reflected the wisdom and experience of E.J. McMahon.
It turns out that NY’s high K-12 spending is attributable to high personnel costs, not number of districts.
“New York’s exceptionally high school spending is driven mainly by instructional salaries and benefits which, at $14,769 per pupil, were 114 percent above the national average of $6,903 in 2014-15,” the July 26 report noted. “New York’s per-pupil spending in this category — which measures total compensation only for staff interacting directly with pupils in the classroom, including teachers and teacher aides — was greater than the total pre-K-12 spending of 42 other states.
“The 70 percent share of New York’s total school spending flowing to instructional salaries and benefits was the highest of any state’s, well above the national average of 61 percent,” the report said. “New York’s cost is exceptionally high because the state combines the nation’s highest average teacher’s salary and relatively high staffing levels (reflected in a well-below-average pupil-teacher ratio).”
On the other hand, the Empire Center report looked at census data to determine that “administrative costs associated with a large number of districts is not a major factor driving the difference in spending. In the category of ‘support services,’ including central and school administration, New York ranked seventh with spending of $5,972 per pupil, which was 49 percent above the national average. But if New York had only spent the national average in the support category, it still would have ranked second among states in overall per-pupil spending
Even New York’s lowest-spending school system (the General Brown district, in Jefferson County) spent 6.4 percent more per pupil than the national average. At the other extreme, 213 New York districts spent at least twice the U.S. average.”
Where do you think the Liverpool Central School District fits in this scheme?
Well, its current budget of $153 million pays to educate some 7,069 students, meaning the administrative and instructional spending averages $21,643 per pupil — far higher than the national average. And, of course, it’s local homeowners and businesses which carry that load in the form of ever-escalating property taxes.
“As debates and disputes over New York school funding continue — highlighted in a pending lawsuit challenging the ‘adequacy’ of state funding for Syracuse and New York City,” the Empire Center summarized, “the national data at least provide a broader perspective and a reality check on the issue.”
See for yourself at empirecenter.org/publications/nys-stratospheric-school-spending.
Mardi Gras will be celebrated on Feb. 13 this year. Let the good times start rolling this Sunday, Jan. 21, when two terrific concerts take place here in Liverpool.
The Big D Orchestra featuring vocalist Sharon Allen will perform a free concert of American roots and blues music at Liverpool Public Library, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, to kick off the library’s third annual Origins of Jazz Series. Co-sponsored by the Liverpool Is The Place Committee, the jazz series continues Feb. 18 with bebop tunes by Ronnie Leigh and Marcus Curry. Admission is free; lpl.org; (315) 457-0310.
Then, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, Second Line Syracuse will blow up a storm at Uriah’s restaurant, 7990 Oswego Road (Route 57). The Sammy-winning New Orleans-style brass band is led by Liverpool High alumna Melissa Gardiner. Admission costs $15 or $12 for members of the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse; (315) 652-0547; jasscny.org.
“The full extent of the continuing rise in school spending since the recession was not inevitable or unavoidable. It was the result of (a) increasing teacher compensation costs driven largely by automatic pay raises, and (b) continued relatively high levels of staffing, relative to enrollment, especially in non-teaching titles.”
–E.J. McMahon, Empire Center for Public Policy
Contact the columnist at email@example.com.