Saturday, July 09, 2005

Joe Birkett (and Rod Blagojevich) have the right idea on school money going to the classroom

Tom Roeser's always well-written Saturday Sun-Times column praises Joe Birkett's campaign platform to require 65% of all Illinois education dollars to be spent on classroom expenditures, as opposed to administrative uses.

Here's the heart of the column (which you can read here)

Under a Gov. Birkett, legislation would be prepared to require every Illinois school district to spend at least 65 percent of expenditures directly on K-12 classroom instruction, a marked increase from the 58.4 percent now expended. Educational reformers have long been critical of the bureaucratic overload that hobbles teaching because of top-heavy administrative staffs. Illinois has 881 school districts, each with a superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal and assistant principal. Some administrators in Illinois are earning as much as $300,000 a year along with lavish pensions. It's amazing when you consider that almost half of the 881 districts have fewer than 150 students.

Birkett has trained his prosecutor's eye on school reform here, and if adopted, the only ones complaining would be the administrative bureaucracy slashed by the 65 percent rule. The most recent tabulated school year by the U.S. Department of Education (2001-02) shows Illinois' revenue for K-12 was $16.5 billion, of which $9.8 billion went to classroom instruction (or 59.5 percent) and $6.7 billion for administrative (or 40.5 percent).


Wow. That's about $1400 per person in Illinois spent on K-12 education (which is probably not enough if we want to compete with China and India for the best-paid jobs in 2020 and 2030). But the shocker (at least to me) is that more than 40 percent of the dollars are spent on administrative uses.

Of course, 'administrative' doesn't mean 'wasteful high-paid navel-gazing bureaucrat' -- that figure includes (I'm sure) the cost of the buildings, the cost of maintenance and other absolutely legitimate costs. But it sure does seem very high.

There are way too many high-paid bureaucrats in Illinois in education.

This is a great issue for Birkett.

Fortunately, Governor Blagojevich was on this one from the start as he worked to abolish regional superintendents but got held up in the General Assembly. I think Birkett's solid platform is a good reason for Dems to renew their commitment to squeeze out waste in the 2006 session. We'd also get the kicker of taking the wind out of the sales of a great issue of perhaps the most aggressive GOP gubernatorial candidate.

Eliminating waste or administrative overhead is a progressive position to take. I'm glad Birkett is taking this progressive position, and the fact that conservatives like the idea should not give any pause at all to Democrats in Illinois who are, after all, in a position to implement this reform and get more teachers hired.


FightforJustice said...

The teacher unions should like the idea of cutting back adminstrative spending to give more to their members. I'm afraid it's more easily said than done, however. Downstaters resist district consolidation, which clearly saves on administrators and overhead.

Nathan Kaufman said...

Jim Oberweis:
"I don't think Illinois has a revenue problem at all. Our tax revenue has been very strong. What we need to do is not to encourage government to take a bigger piece of the pie through taxes but to grow that pie."

Anonymous said...

Dan, if you want a more thorough breakdown of where that money went, you can check out a sidebar I compiled for a Catalyst story last year (after the guv made his comments about 46 cents on the dollar going to instruction). As you can see, the administrative part is pretty measly. Unless, like Blagojevich, you count things like school construction and debt service as "administration."


Anonymous said...

The stats cited are very misleading. Administrative salaries are part of the education portion of the school budgets and lumped in with teacher salaries. The rest goes to M&O (secretarial, janitorial, maintenance, etc) and Transportation.

I'm no fan of huge salaries and perks paid to Superintendents, but again your numbers are misleading. I highly doubt any school district down state with 150 kids makes $300K. Salaries are proportional to region and school budget. A Superintendent in DuPage will make a great deal more than a Superitendent in Morris. But then, you won't find a 3 Bed-2 Bath house in DuPage for even 3 times what it would cost in Morris.

And if a corporation had a $80-100 million dollar budget as many school districts have in the collar counties, would such a business have a CEO who made $100K a year? I doubt it.

I can't believe I'm defending administrators here, but the figures cited are not based on any understanding of school budgets or finance. They are simple sensationalistic figures used for headline grabbing and grandstanding, something I'm sure is out of character for Birkett.

respectful said...

That sidebar on Catalyst was informative. So which specific spending area gets cut to "put more into the classroom"? Facilities? Debt service? Counseling?

ArchPundit said...

There's already a 5% cap on general administration.

ArchPundit said...

DCV--I think they are using a slightly different number set than you are. In the report card for every district, the amount of direct dollars spent on instruction is compared to total operating expenditures (which excludes construction and debt service in most cases.

General administration is capped, as I mention below, but most of that isn't even where administrative salaries are located--the fall in the other categories.

I have a longer post on this over at my site.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Thanks all for the comments. Larry, I think you're the strongest defender of the status quo (sorry for that frame!) that I've found. But I don't think you're making a compelling case. I'm glad to see the 5% cap on admin spending, but how is that defined? And we shouldn't tolerate so many well-paid administrators in *so many* districts. 800! That's ridiculous. If we really want to spend an extra billion or two annually on buying poor kids better futures, we've got to get a more efficient system in place and consolidate relatively empty school districts.

Anonymous said...

Some anecdotal input.

1. Pay - It seems good to look at superintendent\administration pay and resources, vs. amount allocated to the classroom.

There may be downstate school districts which have large populaces of lower-income or less-educated people. These people are not in a position to scrutinize the superintendent pay. They may face retaliation if they do.

It is also probably not a great thing to sensationalize this, or paint all people with high compensation as villains. It helps to put the compensation in perspective with private sector pay.

2. Consolidation- downstate schools have been consolidating for decades now. It was happening back in the 1970s-1980s.

3. Illinois schools- overall, IL schools are an asset for the state? There is a large state university system. There are lots of private universities. Lots of people raise families in Illinois, work at real jobs, and are willing to approve referendums for more school funding (provided the funding improves the schools). Large proportions of the population have access to education.

IL should point this out to people around the globe. It might attract people who want to work hard and want their kids to have access to good schools.

ArchPundit said...

I'm strongly for consolidation, but I think the assumption that all superintendents are well paid is a poor one based on salaries in the Chicago area. A lot of small districts have supers in the range of $60,000-$95,000. Often in the burbs that the salary of teachers with 20 years experience. And certainly gaining leverage on even this in a larger district helps, but most of the high paying administrative jobs are in relatively well off districts.

The $200,000-$300,000 range jobs are suburban schools for the most part with I think Champaign and Peoria hitting that high downstate. Unit 5 in Normal might, but it doesn't have a super right now, but I think they are below that by a significant bit.

Given supers pretty much have to be PhDs and have many years of service, the pay isn't as high as people think outside of the Chicago area.