It's a popular notion among education critics that administrative costs are exorbitant and that money could easily be shifted from administrative categories into the classroom to enhance education.
The issue was raised last week by Merrill Cook, a candidate for governor in the last general election. In a Deseret News "My View" column, Cook said he believes Utah can cut taxes (specifically sales taxes) while increasing funding for education. To accomplish this, he suggests it would be possible to trim excessive administration costs, allowing the money to transfer to the actual teacher/student process.Well, here are the facts, ma'am:
In Utah, the percentage of the overall education budget allocated to administration has consistently decreased throughout the 1980s, from 9.91 percent in 1981-82 to 8.77 percent in 1986-87. That includes general district administration, business functions at both district and school levels and school site administration.
Districts have continued to tighten their administrative staffs and increased the number of individual assignments, said Dennis A. Mower, superintendent in Duchesne and current president of the Utah School Superintendents Association.
In some small districts, administrators are doubling as teachers or are taking responsibility for more than one school, he noted.
The overall ratio of administrators to students in Utah was 1 to 322 in 1986-87. For several years, the state has had the highest number of students per administrator of any in the country.
The number of students for every school district staff member in Utah in 1985-86 (the most recent year for which comparative data is available) was 371.8, compared with 184.6 nationally. At the school building level, the ratio spread is even higher, with 507.4 students per administrator, compared with 313.9 nationally.
A study by the prestigious Educational Research Service exploded several myths about the costs of educational administration across the country. The costs are not rising but going down. The author defends the need for good administrators as vital to the effective development and operation of schools.
Good management is as essential to effective schools as it is to business and industry, the study indicates. Administrators set the tone for the educational process and provide the quality of leadership that makes programs either effective or ineffective.
The total elimination of all central office administrative and professional staff would add only 5 percent to teachers' salaries, the national study showed, and in Utah the shift would be even less, considering the lesser amount the state is putting into administrative costs.
Administrative salaries in Utah don't appear a fruitful target for shifting money either. Salaries for district superintendents range from the low $40,000s to the mid-$70,000s, with the majority at the mid-range.
The state superintendent earns approximately $70,000 - not as much as at least one local superintendent and not comparable with many business executives dealing with a $2 billion budget, thousands of employees and a statewide system.
The average Utah salary for elementary principals is $36,818; for middle/junior high school principals, $37,191; for secondary school principals, $37,631 - an overall average of $37,169.
While inefficiency in schools is not unheard of, and there are instances of waste, I think would-be reformers might have to look somewhere other than administration to find the kinds of money seen to be necessary to make Utah's schools effective "factories" for the students of the 21st century.