Wisconsin Public Schools Spend $330 Million on Bloated Administrative Costs

MacIver News Service | March 8, 2013

By Keyton Kosek
MacIver News Service Special Guest

[Madison, Wisc…] According to the Friedman Foundation, Wisconsin’s public schools spent an extra $330 million in 2009 thanks to bloated administrative costs.

In December, the MacIver News Service put out a special report regarding The Friedman Foundation’s “School Staffing Surge” that analyzed the rise of administrative positions in America’s public schools. Last week, The Friedman Foundation released a companion report that provided some insight on how that problem has taken root in Wisconsin. MacIver’s breakdown of the first report can be seen here.

The report that was released this past week includes more state specific data on public school staffing, as well as responses to criticisms of the December 2012 report. Specifically, the study contains each state’s savings if the increase or decrease of non-teaching staff remained the same as the increase or decrease of students between Fiscal Years (FY) 1992-2009.

In Wisconsin, the change in the number of students from FY 1992-2009 has risen 7%, while the change in administrators has increased by 30%. The previous report found that “the increases in public school employment since 1992 do not appear to have had any positive returns to students as measured by test scores and graduation rates.”

If the percentage change in employment of non-teaching staff had grown proportionately to that of the student population growth in FY 1992-2009, the United States would have 606,633 fewer administrators. This excess growth of non-teaching personnel includes Wisconsin’s 8,348 additional administrators.

The Friedman study takes each state’s number of “extra” administrators and multiplies it by a conservative estimate of $40,000 of average compensation for each non-teaching employee. The study finds the annual cost savings is $333,931,797 for the state’s 8,348 additional administrators. This would not be from cut backs or lay offs, but simply by increasing non-teaching staff at the same rate as Wisconsin’s students from FY 1992-2009. If administrator to student ratios had remained the same over this span, Wisconsin’s public schools would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been diverted to the classroom.

If the state had not increased non-teaching personnel so drastically, classrooms with 25 students in Wisconsin’s schools could save an extra $9,555 annually. Also, the 424 school districts in the state could each have an additional $787,575 in savings rather than having one administrator to every 18.5 students. Another alternative to hiring more administrators would be to increase each teacher’s salary. If these extra funds were applied across the state’s public school teachers, it would result in a $5,622 raise for each educator.

Critics of the first study released in December do not deny that since 1992, the national number of school administrators and non-teaching staff increased by 46%, compared to student growth of 17% and a 32% increase for teachers. However, some have argued against the evidence that student achievement in public schools has been flat or changed for the worst in recent decades.

The argument from critics is that graduation requirements have been augmented over time and student achievement has actually increased. The Friedman Foundation defends their original claim, that public school productivity has declined despite the huge staff increases, by citing evidence from the U.S. Department of Education and news reports from the No Child Left Behind era.

This new companion report to “The Staffing Surge” provides findings that states could save hundreds of millions of dollars every year if they returned staffing ratios for non-teaching personnel to those before FY 1992. More staff is not always better and the facts show that continually increasing the employment levels of administrators has not improved student achievement. These are funds that can be spent in more productive ways, and have a greater effect on providing a quality education to Wisconsin’s students.