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A breakdown of school districts’ administrative costs as teachers strike over salaries

TACOMA, Wash. -- Two school districts in the Puget Sound region are still not open, with striking teachers protesting for higher pay.

Tumwater and Tacoma school districts are still at odds over teacher pay and there is no word when students will start school in those districts.

With a slew of strikes starting off the school year, teacher salaries have dominated headlines.

But what do administrative salaries look like and what does it mean for the quality of education.

“I think there is a lot of debate in the field about whether or not there is a magic ratio of direct institutional costs to other costs,” Professor Meredith Honig at UW College of Education said.

As that magic ratio continues to be up for debate, here are the administrative costs from 2016-2017 school year for the top four largest school districts.

Seattle Public Schools came in at $3,300,074. SPS has the largest student population in the state with more than 50,000 students.

Spokane is the second largest with nearly 29,000 students and they spent $2,107,287 on administrative costs.

Lake Washington is similar in size as Spokane and they spent $2,569,897.

Tacoma is the fourth largest district with about 27,000 students and they used up $2,379,176 on administrative costs.

If you compare those costs to the total expenditures the districts had the same school year, Lake Washington schools spent the most on administrative costs, using .82%. So the largest districts are spending less than 1% of their expenditures on administrative costs.

“So when you are looking at administrative costs, it can be important to consider the extent to which those costs are going towards making teachers' working conditions better,” Honig said.

Salaries for superintendents take up a portion of those funds.

Out of the top 4 districts, Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno made the most compensation in 2016 to 2017, netting $324,728.

She was followed by former Seattle Public Schools Superintendent  Larry Nyland at $314,847.

“This is what the market will bear; they have to offer those salaries to attract top people, the job has become exponentially harder in recent years,” Honig said.

Honig says it’s about supply and demand -- not enough qualified people in the country to lead school districts.

“It’s very important not to over-generalize whether or not administrative costs are good and bad you have to look at what the costs are for,” Honig said.

Honig also says look at the responsibilities superintendents have. Despite the high salaries, there is frequent turnover and school boards across the country are competing to hire from a small pool of qualified candidates.