I read about proposed expense cuts to the Iowa City Community School District with interest, and for many reasons, was appalled. Music and foreign languages are incredibly vital to the student learning experience. Nurses and athletics are also important for many students. Below are just some of my thoughts.
When district leaders have time to craft a policy supplement (after all, someone had to write it!) with serious constitutional problems that could subject the district and its leadership to legal liability, we have too many administrators. So when district leadership is looking for places to make cuts, it should start with the top. And cutting a Director of Community Relations position is not enough of a cut.
And I do not believe that we know, despite the district administration’s claims to the contrary, whether the district is efficient with its administration expenses.
1. I am unconvinced that most school districts manage their money well. For example, if Iowa City benchmarks salaries for administration against a neighboring district, which in turn, benchmarks salaries against Iowa City, the end result is to drive up salaries for administration in both districts.
2. Larger school districts should spend a smaller amount of money per student on administration than smaller districts because larger districts can spread administrative expenses over more students. This means that a school district’s ranking among all Iowa schools for spending on administration is not all that relevant.
3. I am unconvinced everyone would agree about who should be counted as an administrator for purposes of determining administrative expenses.
4. Our district likely uses consultants for services another district might use administrators for.
I was curious about administrative expenses so I emailed a Department of Education representative to ask about them. Below is her reply.
“Districts are required to use Uniform Financial Accounting practices. The accounting codes that differentiate administrative costs from others can be found in the “function” section of the Iowa Chart of Account Coding found on this webpage: https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/school-business-finance/accounting-reporting/uniform-financial-accounting. The administrative functions are from 2300 through 2599.”
Now one might think based upon the above reply that each district tracks expenses the same way; however, this is not necessarily so. See https://www.educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/0910_sfin_finance_handbook_2009.pdf. As examples of where inconsistencies among districts can arise, in some cases, the expense of deputy superintendents can be charged to a service area instead of administration (see page 119) and department chairpersons who also teach may be recorded in Instruction (page 115).
What does this mean? It means, in my opinion, that the board ought to take a much harder look at whether cuts to administration are appropriate (I would have no problem with cuts in the central office administration!) and not hide behind policy governance as an excuse not to do so. After all, the board does not have to be a policy governed board, especially, not all of the time.