Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reports on administrative growth in schools get mixed reviews

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — New reports focusing on the increase in administrative employees in Kansas school districts were greeted with skepticism by several legislators on Thursday, but others said the reports showed there is something wrong with the way schools spend taxpayer dollars.

Ben Scafidi, a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, told the Special Committee on Education that public schools have experienced a "staffing surge" in which the number of school employees grew at a higher rate than the increase in students.

In Kansas from 1993 to 2011, student enrollment grew by 7 percent, teachers by 16 percent and the number of what he called "administrators and other" staff by 36 percent, the report said.

He said if Kansas had limited the growth of nonteaching staff to the 7 percent increase in student enrollment, it could have saved $346.7 million per year or given every teacher a $10,000 pay raise.

State Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said, "We're getting bigger and bigger and more expensive and student achievement levels are not changing at all. What we are doing is not working."

But several other legislators scoffed at the analysis.

State Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, said the study gave the impression that school districts were top-heavy with administrators, when many other professions were included in this nonteaching category, such as special education instructors, reading specialists, school psychologists, audiologists, and speech pathologists.

Trimmer said federal and state mandates require the hiring of many of these employees.

State Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, said dwindling school enrollment in some rural areas was probably skewing the numbers.

Many of his school districts are losing students but they still need a superintendent, he said. And, he said, superintendents in his area fulfill many other jobs.

Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, also provided a report that he said showed Kansas schools are placing more emphasis on hiring more teacher aides than regular classroom teachers.

He said that raises questions about what parents and teachers think about this development and "upon what analytical studies are these staffing decisions made?"

State Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, asked Trabert if he spoke with any school superintendents about that, and Trabert said, "Not since we have done this analysis."