There’s a couple of education-related things in the papers this morning. First, the much-discussed 65% Solution passed the State House yesterday; it’s headed back to the Senate for a couple of minor changes, then it’s off to the Gubner for a signature, following which, Republicans will pat themselves on the back while public schools continue to suffer and localities raise your property taxes.
As we’ve said, ad nauseam, this is one of those fixes than might look good on the surface, but it isn’t really going to help. It might end up making the situation worse. We like local control, personally, and we’re not sure what Sonny Perdue knows that local school district officials don’t know. We’re really not sure what the CEO of overstock.com knows that education professionals don’t know.
Of course, the avowed point of the 65% Solution is to cut down on the money schools are spending on non-classroom expenses. As we’ve pointed out before, non-classroom expenses also include necessities like guidance counselors, nurses, school buses and the gas that runs them, cafeteria food, and school libraries. All of these would probably end up being cut. But the target of the 65% Solution, the convenient straw man that every Republican proposal has to have, is the administrators, usually perceived to get paid a good amount of money for not much work. Having too many administrators padding the overhead is the subject of another ABH piece today. Seems that the Clarke County School District spends about 11% of its total budget on administration (school principals don’t count).
Now, we were told there would be no math, but if you assume that the 65% Solution is going to become law, then you see that that leaves about 24% of the budget left over for the aforementioned counselors, nurses, buses, gas, sloppy joes, and libraries. Given that the CCSD generally spends about $100 million per year, we’re looking at about $24 million for non-classroom, non-administrator expenses.
Here at AthPo, we’ve been on the record in the past as not being the biggest fans of the administration at the Clarke County School District. But our take on this one may surprise you. The fundamental question is: Is the CCSD spending too much on do-nothing administration? Honestly, we don’t know. On one hand, we’re spending a far larger percentage than other districts with similar numbers of students. On the other hand, the percentage we spend is more or less in line with what other districts in the area spend, indicating that the expense may be a result of regional socioeconomic factors beyond our control.
CCSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway points out that, in comparison with similarly-sized districts, Clarke County has substantially higher numbers of special-needs students, meaning special education, ESL, and others, as well as major problems with poverty and health care. Holloway reasons, somewhat defensively if you ask us, that those factors mitigate the 11% of the budget spent on administrators. Nonetheless, the man has a point.
We’re pretty sure that there are areas in CCSD where some money could be cut, both from administration and other items. But the first rule of governmental economics is that governmental entities never operate on “good” economies of scope or economies of scale. Government is, by its nature, wasteful and inefficient. It’s also absolutely necessary. Don’t like it? Then don’t expect roads, bridges, police, or an educated workforce. It is what is it, but we digress. This isn’t meant to be a treatise on governmental economics.
So yeah, the CCSD is probably wasting some money on administration, but we’re not sure how excessive the waste is – whether it’s on par with normal waste for a public school district in an urban area with a poverty level in the high 20’s, or whether Holloway and company are really blowing money on administrators we don’t need. Given our fondness for taking care of all students, we’re going to give them the benefit of a doubt, until we see evidence to the contrary.
These two stories, put together, make a very strong argument against the 65% Solution. If the CCSD legitimately needs the 11% of the budget they are currently spending on administration, then as we mentioned above, we’re left with 24% of the budget for school buses, nurses, and Salisbury steak. As Holloway points out, Clarke County is different from Walton County (even if Ralph Hudgens thinks Athens and Monroe are two peas in a pod), different from Troup County, Gwinnett County, and so on. That’s why local control is so important, and why the 65% Solution is so wrong. We can have the best curriculum in the state, designed to help these special needs students, but without people to coordinate the programs, they’re not going to do anyone any good.
Related: Athens Banner-Herald: “School district spends more on administration” 02/17/06
Athens Banner-Herald: “House approves Sonny’s 65 percent” 02/17/06