Superintendent’s Corner: Can’t we fire all us administrators to pay teachers more?
A frequent suggestion we hear in discussions about teacher salaries is that we just need to fire some administrators so that we can pay our teachers more. For example, Denver Post columnist Jon Caldara puts it this way: “If we still think teachers deserve more, where should the money come from? Might I humbly suggest we look at the growing administrative costs?”
Caldara is partially right — teachers definitely deserve more. Teacher pay has continually fallen in comparison to cost of living. According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in the United States earn 19 percent less than other college graduates; that gap has increased from 2 percent in 1994. In Colorado, that gap is 35 percent.
But would firing administrators solve the problem? Using data from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), we can examine whether our school district is top-heavy or whether firing a few administrators would net a significant increase in teacher pay. The CDE data allows us to calculate the ratio of students per district administrator in each district. District administrators include titles such as superintendent, assistant superintendent, executive director and chief, and exclude building-level administrators such as principals and assistant principals. These are people who oversee programs or teams from a central office and are not based in a school.
Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) regularly benchmarks data against 10 comparison districts in Colorado that have similar characteristics. The average administrator-to-student ratio of the 10 districts is one administrator for every 388 students. In comparison, RFSD has a ratio of one to 722. In other words, when factoring for the size of the district, RFSD has about half as many district administrators as average. In fact, the next highest ratio among our comparison districts is one to 566.
Keep in mind that perfect comparisons are impossible to achieve. Other variables such as district size and funding levels matter. Larger districts that have economies of scale tend to have higher ratios. The comparison districts larger than ours have ratios of about one to 550, the smaller districts one to 350. As we might expect, districts with more funding tend to have more administrators because, well, they can afford it.
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It is gratifying that RFSD appears to be more efficient in that it has nearly half the number of district administrators in comparison to other districts. Though it also might pose questions about what work is being neglected.
Still, for the sake of argument, let’s ask: What would happen if we fired some administrators and put those dollars into teacher salaries? Based on our district’s top administrator salaries and the number of teachers in our district, if we were to cut 10 percent of our administrators and put those dollars into teachers’ paychecks, teachers would see a $13 monthly salary increase. Even if we fired all district administrators, essentially eliminating any centralized coordination, oversight of instructional and operational departments comprising 800 employees and 13 schools, and removing any fiscal management of a $60 million budget, that could only net teachers a 3 percent pay raise.
Our public education bureaucracy is increasingly bloated, and I have written about examples of unfunded mandates and absurd government regulations that distract us from our core work with students. It is also well-documented that, while the funding for education has flatlined, the burdens our society places on schools have skyrocketed. Schools are not only being asked to do more than they used to, but also to do more than in other countries where students appear to be learning more. But slashing the bureaucrats will not effectively restore teacher salaries — at least not in the Roaring Fork Schools.
It is, of course, incumbent on school districts, and other public programs, to resist the bloat and to use their resources efficiently and transparently. The state of Colorado is actually a leader in financial transparency, so that taxpayers can see where their money goes and challenge expenditures with which they disagree. RFSD combs through its budget every year, inviting teacher representatives and board members to look for ways to economize further. It is our responsibility to make sure that every dollar is prioritized for the benefit of students, and investment in teachers should be the highest priority toward that end.
When economic frustrations boil over, people often start to turn against one another and look for scapegoats. However, firing the administrators won’t significantly increase teacher pay. We need to work together on a more comprehensive solution to Colorado’s school funding crisis which includes a significant increase in funding.
Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools.
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