A new report on Colorado education shows that administration is soaking up a disproportionate amount of new funding, while the proportion spent on instruction has actually decreased over the last decade. This is simply an unacceptable situation.

Over the last 14 years, Colorado’s funding per student has increased by 47% while the average teacher salary has only risen by 27%, according to reporting by ColoradoPolitics.com. This is based on the annual Dollars and Data Report from the Common Sense Institute.

The share of funding being spent on instruction, including teacher salaries, decreased statewide from 45.4% in 2011 to 39.1% in 2021. Administration and operations, at the same time, are taking up a greater share of the pie.

Since 2000, the number of school administrators in Colorado increased by 132% and the number of principals increased by 73%, while the number of teachers increased by only 36%. The number of public school students only increased by 25%, according to the report.

Colorado already has an average teacher salary among the lowest in the country, but there is no way we will catch up if spending more on education doesn’t result in more being spent on instruction.

How could the state let this situation get so bad and how can we correct this very worrying trend? They could start by looking at District 51.

A few years ago the District 51 School Board fired its superintendent at the time, Ken Haptonstall. Haptonstall had proposed a plan to reorganize the district’s administrative staff. A Daily Sentinel review of the administration reorganization published in July of 2018 found that the shakeup would cost $1.2 million more in administrative salaries for the 2018-19 school year than in 2017-18, add top-level positions and, on average, give higher raises to administrators than teachers. Haptonstall, hired in 2017, had promised a reorganization plan that would lower costs and reduce administrative staff.

Since then the district hired Diana Sirko, who retired last spring, to serve as superintendent and the situation was rectified.

Before firing Haptonstall, the district did its own review of his plan and found that Haptonstall had mismanaged the shake-up.

Obviously, local journalism can help in situations like the one the state is in and newsrooms around the state should be digging into the budgets of their local districts to see how budget increases have been allocated. We’re proud to serve in that watchdog role here and know it makes a difference.

School Boards, likewise, should do a long-term analysis of their budgets on their own to see if spending on instruction has been shortchanged over time. They should also take a hard look at the size of their administration and whether they can be more efficient to help boost teacher pay.

We doubt we have gotten to this place as a state, with underpaid teachers and bloated administration, intentionally. However, small decisions over time can have a big impact and lead us in a direction no one intended.

We think District 51 has been a leader on this issue, but we all have to remain vigilant and can always do better. As a state, we clearly need to change course and we can start by taking a hard look at where we have prioritized school funding and redirect that back to the classroom.

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Editorial Board

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