After announcing last month that it would cut more than 150 administrative positions from its administrative staff, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has begun the process, Chalkbeat reports. The cuts will direct $17 million toward raising pay for district employees and teachers — who went on strike in February to demand higher salaries — and additional funds will go to special education services.
As of the 2016-17 school year, the district had one administrator for every 7.5 instructional staffers, Chalkbeat notes — greatly surpassing the statewide average of 1 administrator per 11.3 instructional staffers, who typically earn higher salaries than teachers. DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova said paying teachers and hourly employees more money is consistent with the district’s mission.
For Cordova, the decision, in part, comes down to too many administrators pursuing too many initiatives at once — resulting in too small of an impact to justify the expense — rather than prioritizing at a few at a time, according to Chalkbeat.
Denver isn’t the only district that struggles with administrative bloat — according to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the number of administrators in public schools boomed between 1950 and 2009, increasing by 702%, while the number of teachers has grown by 252% and the number of students has only increased by 96%. More recently, between 1992 and 2009, the number of students increased by 17%, but the number of administrative and non-teaching staff members grew 46%. If the number of administrators and students jumped at the same pace, AEI notes, the American public school system would have an additional $24.3 billion annually.
Many blame inflated district administrations for suppressing teachers’ pay. In addition to the Denver teachers strike, the 2018 Arizona teacher strike is one notable incident of educator activism that brought this issue to the forefront. The state's governor, Republican Doug Ducey, also stressed this point in his first State of the State speech in 2015, saying districts spend "far too much on administrative costs” rather than instructional efforts, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.
Some critics say there aren't too many administrators, and that these figures don't make up a significant percentage of employees in public school districts. Additionally, others argue there are reasons for any growth in number of administrators. For one thing, if it wasn’t for these staff members, the tasks they complete would fall on the shoulders of faculty members. Additionally, some argue these positions are necessary to ensure high-quality academics. And on top of that, some say as administrators' roles have changed — there's now more curriculum, testing, staff development and necessary legal services, all of which come with more responsibilities — there haven't been out-of-proportion jumps in these positions.
Still, as with all businesses, school districts should never waste funds just because they can, and each district has unique needs and demands. Ultimately, district leaders and those who play a part in budgetary decisions could benefit from discussions and dialogues over what the school system's needs and priorities are — as well as the needs and priorities of their employees — and how they might be best achieved.