Why not more cuts to school administration?

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.

This entry was posted in Cuts, ICCSD, Iowa City, Iowa City Schools, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why not more cuts to school administration?

  1. Chris says:

    I agree that the board should not defer to the superintendent’s decisions on the budget by characterizing them as “implementation” issues rather than “policy” issues. How to prioritize competing uses of funds is a policy issue.


  2. KD says:

    Hi Mary. I saw your website linked on Chris’s blog. I’d like to see every possible expenditure by the school district examined.including the administrative expenses. Good post.


  3. Anne Flannery says:

    I agree with you! You make great points and I encourage you to send this piece to the Press-Citizen as an opinion piece or letter to the editor. On a side note, as Phil stated at the board meeting, why does the district need two athletic directors at over six figures each? Could the district get by with one or reduce their salaries?
    I also looked at how much the superintendent at CR makes. It’s less than Murley and he deals with a much larger district. West Des Moines super makes less too. 187,000. Murley could be the highest paid super in the state. I wonder who to ask for that info? I also have to question why the board would give him a raise. He seems to be paid well compared to the other supers in the state.


  4. Mary says:

    Thank you for your comments. I would like to have seen the administration get much more input from the teachers, students, staff, and public and over a longer time period than dumping the cuts on the public the night of the budget vote.

    If you would like to see what expenses are in the general fund, click on this link https://www.educateiowa.gov/documents/certified-annual-financial-reports-car/2014/04/2012-2013-car and then click on the Excel file 1213_sfin_CAR_data DR.xlsb and then select Iowa City at the top left of the page. At the bottom of the worksheet, select “General Exp” which will bring up the general fund expenses. It would have perhaps resulted in better expense cuts if the administration had provided underlying detail and let everyone comment on where cuts should be made.

    This is not the time for the board to claim cuts are the sole responsibility of the superintendent. As elected officials, I expect them to do as Chris suggests above.

    Again, thanks.


  5. I agree with you, Mary. Why not more cuts to administration? If the Iowa City Community School District and its board of directors were truly “student-centered,” as is their motto, they would make cuts that would least impact student learning. Cutting 35 teachers, including half of the orchestra teachers in a really outstanding orchestra program, and keeping almost all administrators, including newly created and redundant administration positions (e.g., two assistant physical plant directors who are so capable that they and the physical plant director have to bid out most of their work to someone who knows how or purports to know how to do the work), is hardly “student-centered.”


    • Mary says:

      Thanks for the comment and the tweet Maria.

      There’s no reason the Board can’t get more involved in examining expenses. For example, the amount of money spent on the five categories below for 2012-13 is staggering–$9,121,138.11. This is in ICCSD’s CAR found on the Iowa Department of Educations website. Here’s the link: https://www.educateiowa.gov/documents/certified-annual-financial-reports-car/2014/04/2012-2013-car. Just select Iowa City and then look at General Exp.

      Maybe all of this spending is justified; however, the expenses in these categories deserve a second and third look.

      Board of Education Services
      Executive Administration Services
      Special Area Administration Services
      School Administration Services
      Business Administration Fiscal Services

      Again, thanks.


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