by Gayle Plato-Besley, M. Ed.
The Arizona Republic published a story regarding school districts and the restructuring of the local governing bodies: ”The report submitted Friday by the Arizona School District Redistricting Commission would affect more than 330,000 Arizona students. Twenty-seven districts would replace the existing 76 elementary and high-school districts, eliminating 49 districts of the state’s 227.” (http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/topstories/articles/1223redistrict1223.html )
The proposal slated for a November ballot, was submitted to Governor Janet Napolitano purely in an informational capacity. Unfortunately, the real solution is missing from the report. Centralization of administration not all programming in districts, would alleviate at least 5% of districts’ budgets without losing all local decision making.
District Administrators including Superintendents, Fiscal Administrators, their support staff, and most importantly principals and assistant principals make up approximately 9-10% of each school district’s budget. (http://www.ade.state.az.us/sdrc/) Yet, ask any teacher, and you will hear that school site administrators are pulled out of the schools they manage up to half of the school week for district-based meetings of budget, maintenance and operations, and overall district business. This includes strategy sessions to hook voters regarding budgets, bonds, and tax expenditures.
We, as citizens, remember principals from a child’s perspective. Like Bart Simpson duping Principal Skinner, we do not know exactly what the average administrator does. The job is grueling and maybe a bit redundant. In addition to the management of the individual school including all discipline, parental concerns, classroom function, local testing and student achievement, there is the daily budgetary challenge. The day begins at sunrise and often does not end until well past sundown. Meetings are endless and more and more administrators are pulled farther from the children they are there to help.
The good administrators are out with the kids as much as possible, and the bad one are ghosts on campus only known by the troubled few. School administrative assistants, registrars, and office receptionists are the life blood of the school. Disciplined children are plopped down at their desks while everyone waits for the administrators to ‘get back from a meeting’. If a teacher has a regular history of office referrals, he or she is professionally dinged as not managing the class. Reality is, most projects pulling the principals away could be reassigned. A central hub of a few district administrators makes more sense.
Battle of the Bulge
Corporate America learned years ago- get lean. Many managerial and administrative positions were scrutinized and consolidated. Once better defined, certain jobs were subcontracted and accountability became the key to good contract work. Education could take a lesson from the likes of former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch. Famous for his basic advice, Welch says, simplicity, self-confidence, and speed are the key principles of success in business. He’s also stated, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
Governmental agencies are adapting, and are successfully cutting budgets. Contracting jobs can work when there are clear goals and monitored activity, leading to more efficiency. If each hour is billable and the contractor knows his company can be booted for poor performance, the job gets done. But how can education adapt? I read a very telling piece put out by the National Education Association (NEA) stating the evils of contracting and capitalism. Here is an excerpt:
“These forces, combined with support services contracting, amount to an attempted private sector takeover of the entire system of public education. If these forces were allowed to continue unabated, one could imagine a system of public education where nearly all administrative, teaching, support, and even cultural functions would be controlled by private companies, reducing the role of elected school boards to glorified contract administrators. Clearly, this prospect gives new and deeper meaning to the term ‘privatization.’”http://www.nea.org/privatization/index.html
That quote sums it all up. Scare the public into believing that private contracting will take over all political control and eliminate the school board and citizen choice. Either education must face trimming of administrative and support costs or become the dinosaurs- extinct.
Eliminate Redundant Administrators: One per school who stays at the school, managing school issues directly related to educating the children. Create a liaison to the district superintendent; this liaison conveys school needs and manages legal, maintenance and operations, and unusual challenges of personnel or parental concern. If there was one liaison per 3-6 schools, coordinating testing issues, funneling legal concerns, communicating specific budgetary needs and wants, and attending all of the meetings related to his region, the one principal is free to do his job properly.
Get rid of multiple assistant principals doing the site-based work. One principal is plenty and it’s a much more rewarding job to be at the school helping children, parents, and teachers.
Contract all Social Services- I am a school counselor with years of experience and I can attest to the misuse of this role. No one in administration seems to grasp the job. Short-term solution focused counseling offered on site is a great idea, but when the counselor is pulled in to do discipline or even scheduling, the role is watered down and the trust between child, parent and educator is limited. Social Workers and Counselors are best an outsider to the system as the job is one of child advocate. Without be-laboring the point, there is a clear trend toward this and it helps offer good programming on the parents’ schedules too: evening sessions for family or child counseling. All coordination of services can be done too with a representative attending any meeting needed just like any contractor would do per definition of the services.
Avoid Hiring Consultants: Nothing frustrates parents and voters more than a misappropriation of funds then followed by a committee to study said misuse, only then to determine that a consultant is needed to review why the whole mess started. Buck Passing 101- all on the tax dollar’s dime. Select a Jury of Peers including a community quorum. QUORUM is the key word as one guy who owns a business in town with a desire to run for office is NOT a good representative of the community.
Does the lean approach really work in education:
School Nurses have all but been eliminated in many districts; one or two RNs oversee the local site staff. When it all began, this budget cut scared the band-aids out of educators and nurses alike. Scary news stories of how kids would be dying on the playground surfaced. Yet, the system generally works and health service budgets are leaner. The key, once again, is a health office assistant at every school trained and monitored by an administrative school nurse. It isn’t easy but it is fiscally sound. Especially since very little medical care can be administered by a school official anyway. Standard rule is always call 911 regardless if it is done by a nurse or not. Schools cannot treat nor prescribe anything. Many larger schools in high need areas are housing private health clinics too. All without much complication.
NEA fears change and revision of bureaucracy, and outsourcing is the bane of many an educator. It implies the public educator is a peripheral dinosaur. Simply put, the NEA needs to get over the fact that this is a Capitalist society. School Districts are not socialist, commune-like villages. Schools need to reflect society with success based on the American Dream: small business, corporate structure and competition.
About the author: Gayle PLato-Besley, 43, is a writer, social studies teacher, and certified counselor with over 19 years experience working with children and families. Her experience includes work as a school counselor in local school districts, private practice, and a secondary level teacher of U.S. Government, Economics, and History. Gayle’s writing has been featured in the Arizona Republic, the Sonoran News, AZNET News, and the Foothills Focus. Her blog, therightwoman.townhall.com, covers a variety of political topics.