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Paynesville Press - February 13, 2002

Lack of potential cuts in administration stirs debate

By Michael Jacobson

Is the school district top heavy?

This question has taken new significance in light of the current budget reduction process for the 2002-03 school year. The school district plans to cut $500,000 from its budget for next year as part of its plan to escape statutory operating debt.

A potential list of $600,000 cuts was brought to the school board three weeks ago, but potential cuts in administration were noticeably lacking. The only administrative cut was a potential $5,310 reduction in administration support for seventh and eighth grade athletics, and these sports programs, even if cut from the general fund budget, might resurface through community education.

The lack of the cuts in administration was a topic raised more than once at the public hearing last week, with at least three people expressing the sentiment that they didn't want to target the administration but that some cuts in administration must be possible.

"I feel you should look at every area when you cut," said Debbie Meagher at the public hearing, "including administration."

Even before the public started to comment at the hearing, school board chairman Pat Flanders addressed the topic, because board members have been approached repeatedly on the topic, he said. "It's a nonclassroom item, and it seems like you should cut there first," he said, before addressing the district's specific needs for a curriculum coordinator and a building and grounds supervisor.

The district has only 2.68 FTE building principals, since middle school principal Deb Gillman spends almost a third of her time as the curriculum coordinator. (A separate curriculum coordinator position was eliminated in budget cuts that took effect this fall.)

Flanders said the district needed a building and grounds coordinator to keep track of district compliance with all the regulations and requirements of the state.

Flanders' remarks echoed comments made by superintendent Howard Caldwell at a special board meeting on Monday, Jan. 28. He told the board that the administration could not be cut sizably.

The curriculum job, especially with the requirements of graduation standards, is still important and needed, Caldwell said. Plus, if the district switched to two principals, a 7-12 building would have more than 500 kids, which would require an assistant principal, he added, meaning any administration cuts would be minimal.

Administrators presented statistics at the special board meeting on Jan. 28 and again at the public hearing on Monday, Feb. 4, to support the present level of administration staffing and justify the lack of reductions in administration.

High school principal John Janotta presented statistics from the Department of Children, Families, and Learning to the school board on Monday, Jan. 28. One statistic, using expenditures from the 1999-00 school year, showed School District #741 spent less than the state average on administration and support, special education, and pupil support services, but more for classroom instruction.

Expenditures - Percents of Total

District #741 Entire State
Administration and Support8.50% 8.57%
Instruction56.20% 50.08%
Special Education12.30% 15.33%
Pupil Support Services6.00% 8.44%
Other17.00% 17.59%

The other figures Janotta presented seemed to indicate that the district's expenditures for administration were less than average, while its spending for instruction was above average. In comparisons with 15 neighboring school districts, Paynesville's administration spending per pupil was lower than all but two. Meanwhile, its spending on instruction was the highest among the 15 districts.

Middle school teacher Randy Ziemer, for one, disputes the impression given by the administration's statistics for a couple reasons. First, because their statistics mix administration expenses (school board costs and salaries for the superintendent and principals) with other office expenses called support services.

According to statistics that Ziemer attained from CFL (which he offered to the board at the public hearing) the district's administration costs are 6.40 percent while its support services are 2.10 percent. The district's spending on just administration, as a percent, is higher than at least four nearby districts.

Ziemer also objects to the numbers because they are a couple years old and the statistics for the current year have not been made available. In the past couple years, Ziemer notes, a number of senior teachers have retired, having been replaced with lower-salaried replacements. And the budget cuts from last winter, which took effect in the 2001-02 school year, included the reduction at least six teachers.

The new numbers 2001-02, Ziemer believes, will show lower spending on instruction and higher numbers for administration.

At the special meeting on Jan. 28, the administration also gave the school board a list of recent reductions in administrative and administrative support positions in the past two years, which was also distributed at the public hearing on Monday night.

Recent Administrative and Administrative Support Reductions
     Position - Cost*
1) Curriculum Coordinator - $44,800
2) Technology Coordinator - $11,200
3) Food Service Manager - $27,000
4) Department Chairs - $10,000
5) District Office - $5,021
    (Eight hours/week clerical)
6) Special Education - $20,715
    Clerical Assistant
7) Technology Technician - $10,000
TOTAL - $128,736
  *Includes salaries and benefits

Ziemer, though, takes a dubious view of items four through six on this list. "(Administrators) may argue that they have more administrative work (due to these reductions)," he said, "but the reality is we're talking about salaries that went to teachers and support staff, not to the top end."

"They tell us to think outside the box, but my own view is the administration box has gotten too big," Ziemer added.

Along with requests to look at cuts in administration, several speakers spoke highly of the district's principals at the public hearing on Monday, Feb. 4. Several teachers also spoke directly on the benefits of the middle school concept, an identity that might be lost if the district would reduce to two building principals.

The school board was expected to address the topic of administrative cuts again as follow-up to the public hearing at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

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