Do Oklahomans Spend too much on Education Admin?

In my town of around 2,300 people and a school district of about 1,000 students, the last superintendent’s annual salary was around $115,000 including benefits. This isn’t even arguing that he wasn’t worth every penny. Where I have problems, is that in my county of around 8,000 people, there are another three more relatively compensated superintendents. That’s four superintendents for about 2,000 children. This is a similar pattern as detailed in a 2014 report by

At Reydon Public Schools in western Oklahoma, the superintendent makes $116,000 a year, including benefits, to oversee one of the smallest districts in the state, at 124 students. That’s $936 per student, compared to $6 for Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, the highest paid superintendent this year, at $260,000.

According to the same report, in 2011 Oklahoma had 524 public school districts, down to 517 by 2014. Measured against the rest of the nation of students per district and that places Oklahoma at 44th of 51 states including the District of Columbia. Given that in the same year, Oklahoma ranked 48th out of 50 in per-pupil spending while spending on district oversight increased by nearly 13 percent when adjusted for inflation. This means that the actual money spent in classrooms educating children has decreased as more is spent on oversite.

I understand the problems many communities face. Oklahoma’s geography is limiting, such as in Western Oklahoma, where closing one school to consolidate with another would mean bussing in students from over 30 miles away. This is an unreasonable burden even if the expenses justify it. This is also why many districts fight against consolidation. I’m not calling for that. I don’t want to close individual schools, but to look at the actual administration of the schools.

Consider how other states such as Texas run their city-wide unified school districts. Texas ISDs maintain independent campuses, but a unified administration with only one extremely competent superintendent and staff. To put numbers to that, Lewisville ISD in Lewisville, TX has enrolled 52,045 students as of March of 2018 over 69 campuses, grades K-12. They are led by Dr. Kevin Rogers, Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. Lori Rapp, Deputy Superintendent. That’s one Superintendent and one deputy, both Ph.D.’s officiating the education of over 50,000 students. Back on the North bank of the Red River, compare this to the county I call home, where four separate school districts, complete with four admin staffs, service only around 2,000 students.

Likewise, if it were possible to cut Oklahoma’s 3.2-percent rate of spending on district oversight to that of Hawaii’s, the lowest in the nation at 0.5 percent, the savings would amount to $249 per student, or $165 million, a year. That isn’t going to solve all of Oklahoma education’s budgetary woes, in fact, very few of them, but if every dollar of that were to go to Oklahoma’s teachers, it would amount to a pay raise of more than $3,000 per year.

Will consolidating many of the school’s administrations solve all of their problems? Hardly, but is it somewhere we need to be looking. Yes, and in fact, it’s one of the easiest options we have.

Kentucky v Vanderbilt

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Cutting Red Tape to Ease the Burden on Teachers

We’ve listed problems, but the hardest thing for anything to do is finding solutions. That’s why, no matter how bad it may get, I really don’t like to hate on elected officials too much. It’s much harder to make problems go away than it is to simply diagnose. That said, screaming for a raise isn’t the best and only solution. That money has to come from somewhere and it won’t solve all the problems with education. It might actually make much of it worse when the state start demanding their pound of flesh for half a billion dollars split some 40,000 ways, which would then be their right.

So let’s talk about solutions:

First, we need to realize that sometimes, the quest to be seen solving the problem, is the problem. As I’ve written about in other sections, Oklahoma has created a nightmare situation for teachers as it shows how little it trusts them. This is seen in the regulations requiring high-stress testing, not only on the student but teachers, and school, to the micromanagement of their state curriculum. Oklahoma education doesn’t fail because not enough is being done. Oklahoma education fails because too much is being done too often.

This is why deregulation needs to be an agenda item. It needs to be the first item because it is the most powerful means of making Oklahoma teachers more empowered to do well while costing the state nothing to implement. Given the costs of overseeing the programs already in place, those which it isn’t obvious to anyone does any good to further the goals of education, it may actually save money. Cutting that red tape on teachers is the simplest matter from a policy standpoint because it gives teachers what they really want, the freedom to reach for their own potential rather than be limited by the barriers of the state.

Deregulation also allows individual districts to tailor solutions to their individual needs as no two communities in Oklahoma are the same. At the same time, they’ll be experimenting with new methods, and when successful, those methods can be implemented throughout the state. It’s the argument of freedom over centralized governance. It says that individuals know better how to solve their own problems than do government bureaucrats in the Capitol. It’s fine to communicate a vision and even to hold those schools accountable to fail to meet expectations. It’s not fine, however, to see that some schools are failing, and in response, bind their hands so tightly that they can’t even have an independent thought that wasn’t mandated in the State Superintendent’s letter.

Deregulation requires the state actually putting trust in teachers, but at the same time, it requires that bad teachers be free to be let go. While it’s terrifying for many teachers struggling at the bottom, there are many teachers in Oklahoma who have long been a part of the problem but are currently protected from the suffering many new teachers experiences. We all know a few and know that they are demoralizing to our school cultures and damaging to our students’ future. They need to go to free up space for younger and more motivated teachers.

What would this look like? First of all, a promise to teachers in keeping with how President Trump implemented his deregulatory promises, vowing to cut two regulations for every new one that goes on the books. In truth, he was much closer to 10:1, and that freedom has seen many businesses prosper over the last year. Love him or hate him, that policy has been very good for the American economy, and a version of it needs to be implemented in Oklahoma, particularly in our education system.

Next, give teachers a break. I mean that in a very real and meaningful way. Let it come down from the state that they are going to relax the state standards, and take a good long, honest look at a comprehensive set of standards should be. Lay off on the constant reforms, but come up with one that can work for the state and let it be known that the next set of standards will be instituted no more than three years from some date and that no new standard changes will happen for a full ten years after. Give them that sense of security and then, given them ownership. Make the standards part of an open discussion where teachers, parents, experts, and lawmakers have input in the three-year evolving process.

Not only will this make teachers owners in the programs rather than servants to it, but it will allow them to prepare ahead of time for the changes that are coming, rather than have the rug pulled out from under them with some email from the state. Imagine what good teachers will be able to achieve knowing that the work they put in this year will be able to be used next year, and the year after that, evolving with them as they grow as teachers. And best of all, seven years after the standards have been changed, they’ll know the next three years are an opportunity to get it right, and they can have an even greater impact by making even better the standards they’ve mastered, raising their own bars.

And you know what else? Maybe cool it with all these stinking tests. The fact of the matter is that Oklahoma needs a reset. Schools need be allowed to lay off the testing. Teachers need to be free to say, “Jimmy’s not ready for Third Grade,” without that decision coming from the state. Teachers need to be free to teach and learn what works best for them with schools responsible for their own assessment. At least let this happen for a while, give the school cultures time to adjust and to shed the burden of thinking of themselves as miserable failures, and come up with plans to improve while a paradigm in Oklahoma education is being devised with a focused effort on creating a strategy that works.

I know… do nothing? Do less than nothing? That sounds crazy. I know, but here is the ugly truth, it can’t honestly be as bad as what we have now. Sometimes, doing less is doing more. Should all of this become a reality, that will help teachers not hate their lives so much, but won’t actually solve the budget problems. That’s going to require other solutions, but unleashing teachers from the burdens of doing the job, that should be our first step in fixing OK education now.


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