Purging the Surge

imag0166  Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, MI

Actually I am not sure what this title means except that I hope to clean up some of the possible misinformation coming from Benjamin Scafidi’s work that is heavily cited by the OCPA.  I tackled his Surge 1 in my October 17, 2016 “Dirge for a Surge” so now will tackle his Surge 2.  This work built on the first by providing state by state information; specifically, he points out that from FY 1992 to FY 2009 Oklahoma’s “Change in Students” was 10% compared to a “Change in Administrators and other Non-Teaching Staff” of 28%.  His source is the U S Dept of Ed’s National Center for Education Statistics.  He goes on to do the math that at $40,000 each, if the growth in administrators and other non-teaching staff had only been 10%, then there would have been enough funding, about $230,000,000 each year, for teachers to get a $5,000 pay raise.

My critique of Surge 1 was that using the terminology “Administrators and Other Non-Teaching Staff” was intentional on his part to lead the reader to believe that the primary growth has been in administrators when I suspect it has been among the major support personnel categories of teacher assistants, food service workers, bus drivers, etc.  I argued that unless you pinpoint what job categories make up the growth and examine what laws, policies, and other factors have caused the increases, his Surge research merely crunches numbers without providing thoughtful policy direction.  I also disputed his use, which I think was in the spring presentation to OCPA, of $50,000 per non-teaching employee to come up with a $7,000 raise for teachers (lay off TA’s, bus drivers and food service workers and give teachers a raise!).  He uses $40,000 in Surge 2. 

Others have critiqued his work for similar reasons.  At the end of Surge 2 is his rendition of five categories of critiques that he received, it’s supposedly an academic paper, and his responses.

To put more of a face on this data, which deserves consideration by policy-makers, I tallied the current full time staff, numbering 603, at Sand Springs Public Schools by general job category.  Here’s the list:

317 Teachers (includes all certified personnel defined as teachers by law and OCAS coding, i.e. classroom teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses, librarians, etc.)                 

286 Administrators and Non-Teaching Personnel, specifically:

27 Administrators (serving 11 separate instructional sites)

82 Teacher Assistants (in the classroom)                                     

54 Food Service Workers                                                                 

36 Bus Drivers                                                                          

35 Building Custodians                                                                      

32 Office Workers (school sites and central administration)              

12 Maintenance, Warehouse and Mechanics  

4 Information Technology

4 Security Guards                

The total of the “bad” employees is 286; less than 10% of that number are administrators.  Why does Scafidi lead off that category with Administrators unless he is trying to bias the reader?

Most of these support personnel are employed only when students are in school, like teachers, on 180 day contracts.  While their hourly wages may be competitive in the marketplace, their total compensation is reduced significantly as a result.  If Scafidi would do the work he would find, at least in Oklahoma, that support personnel compensation (I mean total cost) is likely more in the range of $25,000, not $40,000.  Throw in 10% of administrators at $75,000 each and you end up with an average of $30,000, well under his $40,000 figure he uses to say we could give teachers the $5,000 raise.

Still it would be something.  Yet another way to look at this, using SDE Annual Report numbers shows ADA grew from 1992 at 556,608 to 603,409, an 8.4% increase (Scafidi’s figure is 10%) while “certified staff” (not FTE) increased from 44,164 to 52,167, an 18.1% increase.  This seems consistent with his central thesis that more and more adults are not getting the job done, if you believe the job is not getting done.  It also says that the student to certified staffing ratio fell from 12.6 to 11.6 over that 17-year period—should we expect that to be a game-changer?

In an earlier blog post I point out that part of the HB 1017 reforms of the early 90s was to expand early childhood education, which requires teacher assistants, and to lower class sizes, for which teacher assistants can be used as a safety valve.  If policy makers think there are too many adults, don’t whine about it, do the hard work and tell school districts what services to reduce, like school meals that are mostly paid for with federal funds that would disappear with the workers, early childhood education, or maybe convenient school bus service that working parents rely on.

Remember lunch is on me if you identify the photo location.  ID’d by Gretchen Hannefield.


A Turkish de Fright

imag0148  Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison

My experiences with Oklahoma charter schools began the first year (2000 I think) that charters were granted when, as an attorney with the Riggs Abney firm, I began providing services to Dove Science Academy.  For several years working with successive executive directors/principals who were immigrants from Turkey I just thought these leaders were clever men who had found a way to make a living and stay in the United States after completing their college education at places like Oklahoma State.  Some years into my work with Dove Science Academy I became aware of the fact that Dove was part of a loose network of schools, including the Harmony charter schools in Texas, that were inspired by the work of a Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen.  Nothing I learned caused me any concern, rather it made me curious to learn more about him when I could find the time.  All my interactions with the leadership of Dove, and later Discovery Schools of Tulsa, were with men and women who were wholly committed to educating the children of Tulsa parents who chose to send them to these charter schools.  I ended my legal representation of Dove, Discovery and another charter school in 2013 partly to free up more time for other activities, including learning more about the Gulen Movement or Hizmet as it is also called. 

Last Thursday Linda and I attended a lecture “Turkey Democracy in Peril” given by Dr. James C. Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and hosted by The Dialogue Institute, a part of the Gulen Movement.  The President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the Gulen Movement for the unsuccessful and violent coup attempt in July, which the Movement has denied.  President Erdogan has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey from Pennsylvania where he has been in self-imposed exile since 1999; to date the U. S. Government has insisted that Turkey must show proof that Gulen was involved in the coup attempt and is following the standards of American due process that protect legal residents as well as citizens in our country.  In the aftermath of the coup attempt thousands of police, teachers, military and even judges who are suspected of being Gulen Movement sympathizers have been removed from their jobs and in some cases even jailed.  If you are interested in all of this I encourage you to look at websites connected to the Gulen Movement and also to read the October 17, 2016 New Yorker article “The Thirty-Year Coup”.

The following day, Friday the 14th, I was in the courtroom of Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish to participate in a hearing on motions filed by both sides in the OTC Motor Vehicle Collections lawsuit I described in my 6/22/2016 Post “HB 2244”.  It was a pleasure to watch Judge Parrish work through her motion docket; she was well-prepared and respectful of all parties.  I couldn’t help but reflect on how valuable it is to all of us, and especially for those who have enjoyed the greatest economic success in our country, to have matters of controversy decided by judges who generally are unbiased and committed to fair treatment of all parties, even the least among us.  Unlike the remaining judges in Turkey who have not lost their positions for being supposed Gulen sympathizers, I doubt that Judge Parrish had any concern Friday that her decisions, or private beliefs, could cause her to lose her job the following week.  She ruled in favor of the eight plaintiff districts; I will post more documents on my “HB 2244” post and you can go to this link to see as well:  http://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=oklahoma&number=CV-2016-1249

Saying nice things about a judiciary that just decided a case in favor of my clients may seem a little gratuitous, however it was not a fully successful week.  It had also been my pleasure early on to collaborate with the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs on behalf of the coalition Keeping Oklahoma’s Promises in litigation challenging the 2014 Legislature’s HB 2630 that places all new state workers into a defined contribution plan and phases out over time the defined benefit plan for state workers referred to as OPERS.  The plaintiffs alleged that the legislature had ignored its own law, the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAAA), that requires a two-year process and serious actuarial analysis before making such a significant change to an Oklahoma pension plan.  The defendants maintained, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed, that the Legislature, as a body, doesn’t have to follow its own laws.  You can read for yourself here:  http://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=appellate&number=SD-114676&cmid=118391

Though obviously frustrating it is a fair decision and all the nice things I say above about Judge Parrish apply as well to our state supreme court.  The decision does not say that moving state workers to a defined contribution system is a good thing, rather it, not so simply, says that it is the Legislature’s choice.  For the reasons I point out in my August 24, 2016 Post “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” the Legislature made a bad choice.  It’s not that moving workers to a defined contribution system is bad in and of itself, rather by moving them away from a collective/group plan that has lower costs and higher investment yields they have assured that Oklahoma’s taxpayers will get less bang for our bucks invested in state workers’ retirement which remains an important means of recruiting quality employees to do the important work we expect from our state government.  The beneficiaries of the Legislature’s action are the local financial planners (some who are legislators) and Wall Street firms that will reap more fees and commissions from state workers who are now left to figure it all out on their own.

If the Legislature in 2014 had, in good faith and of its own volition, followed OPLAAA then it would have informed itself about the perils I discuss in “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” and perhaps it would have moved to a hybrid defined contribution plan that would retain the benefits to taxpayers and workers of being big and perpetual.  But it did not and instead it followed the simplistic game plan handed to them by the limited thinkers at OCPA.  See my first Post “Hello World” from June 20, 2016.

Cindy Kerr ID’d the photo.



A Dirge for a Surge


Some weeks ago I promised to take a closer look at the work by Benjamin Scafidi with the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia that was referenced in OCPA blogs on August 31 and March 4, 2016 by Brandon Dutcher.  You can find the Scafidi work by searching “The School Staffing Surge”—there are two reports and I’ve only looked at the first dated October 2012.

His reports document that over recent decades, going back to 1950, the growth in student population has been dwarfed by the growth in the numbers of teachers and even more so by the growth in the numbers of “Administrators and Other Staff”.  Those were the categories he referenced in his presentation to the OCPA last spring but I thought surely his academic work would show more detail.  It doesn’t.

That fact alone betrays Scafidi as something other than an academic scholar; rather he is in good company with the other limited thinkers at OCPA so likely they will tout his work again and again in the future.  The clear message he intended, probably before even starting his “research” was to produce a marketable piece showing how there’s plenty of money for teacher raises if only school districts would get rid of administrators (note how his category description is Administrators and Other Staff).

Having said that, the Surge in adult employment in our public school system certainly merits research and understanding.  However, throughout his first report the only external factor he refers to, and argues is not the cause, is No Child Left Behind.  What he doesn’t discuss is what makes up that “Other Staff”.

I’ll share exact numbers/percentages in the future about the Sand Springs Public Schools (will be interesting to check my memory), but here is the gist of what it will show.  During my ten years as its CFO the district employed between 600 and 650 full time employees.  The largest work group was certified teachers being about 350 I think; this number includes counselors, media specialists, nurses, etc. as defined in state law.  The second largest was classroom teacher assistants being about 100—that’s adults working with students assisting with classroom instruction Mr. Scafidi.  Then we had no more than 150 divided among three other work groups:  bus drivers, child nutrition workers, and maintenance and custodial personnel.  Administrators totaled about 25.

I was an elementary school student through most of the 1950’s in Tulsa.  I remember very large class sizes, especially library and gym class.  Breakfast was not served and seemed like more of us packed a lunch.  I never rode a school bus till I became an administrator at Sand Springs.  There were no students with disabilities in my schools and Kindergarten was half day—no four-year-old classes.

Without looking at each service now mandated for our public schools and the staff required to provide each service we can’t begin to understand why the overall numbers have increased.  Scafidi’s work poses a useful question, while implying an uninformed solution–get rid of all the unnecessary administrators.  As you can see from my estimates for Sand Springs, assuming a longitudinal look at its data would be similar to Scafidi’s numbers, getting rid of all administrators would not affect the trends appreciably.  The growth in “Other Staff”, the people who wipe noses, show flash cards, move children in their wheelchairs, clean the buildings at night, count the football game receipts, drive children safely to school, maintain the wifi, cook and serve meals, and other work needed to operate schools as expected and required, is what has given Scafidi and Dutcher their heartburn.  At least I’d be willing to bet my next state income tax cut that’s what real research would show.

If policy makers had that information, then we could thoughtfully consider our priorities for what we should expect of our public schools.  But no, that’s not why Scafidi and Dutcher are paid, to help improve government services; rather their mission is simply to bash anything government regardless of its value or service to our economy and democracy.  It’s a lot easier to do “research” when you already know your results.

More to come.  And as always lunch on me if you are the first to identify the photo location (in honor of our Presidential Election season).

Done Waiting for Mr. Bond


Royals Stadium, Kansas City.  Oakland Athletics 16 – 4 victory.

My friend, colleague and extraordinary blogger (http://www.viewfromtheedge.net/) Rob Miller alerted me to content in a post by another friend, colleague and extraordinary blogger (https://okeducationtruths.wordpress.com/) Rick Cobb concerning Dave Bond, the OCPA fellow who told Scott Thompson on his fine program “Educate Oklahoma” that the legislature had made $100 million available for teacher raises through legislation sponsored by OCPA in 2015.  This time Mr. Bond was using a transaction at the Catoosa school district to demonstrate how there is lots of money available for teacher raises if boards and administrators would just make the right decisions.

But first that $100 million Mr. Bond promised.  I emailed him last week just to check in since we’d been away a couple of weeks and hoping to avoid more painful reading on the OCPA site.  So far no answer but today I notice this post from September 26:

Teachers Now Benefiting from OCPA Healthcare Proposal Thanks to the efforts of OCPA and some very capable lawmakers, many Oklahoma teachers and state employees will now see significant savings in out-of-pocket medical charges—while also saving money for taxpayers. Read now >> – See more at: http://www.ocpathink.org/post/freedom-flash-sept-26#sthash.UXGz5VOU.dpuf

And when you go to see more, drum roll please, here is what I found:

In 2015, OCPA pushed for the state to create HealthChoice Select, a program that could help teachers and other state employees save up to $30 million annually in out-of-pocket medical charges. Thanks to Rep. Mulready and Sen. Treat, this program is now a reality for 180,000 Oklahomans.

Which does seem to tie back to the House Bill 1567 Mr. Bond referenced in his email to me, see my Post “Something Special”.  However, I’m not seeing the $100 million for teacher pay increases.  Seems like Mr. Bond just made up “something special” just for Scott Thompson and the people of Oklahoma.

Move forward to Wednesday the 28th and Mr. Bond along with Shawn Hime of OSSBA and a couple of others appeared on the local FOX station in OKC for a forum on SQ 779—the penny sales tax for education/teacher raises.  You can access it at Rick Cobb’s October 2 post; I’m not savvy enough to link here.  The fun part is at about 1:05 I think.  The OCPA’s tact is that absolutely teachers need a $5,000 raise (they’ll forget all about that after November 8), but a tax increase is not needed because the money is already there.

I sure can’t find Mr. Bond’s $100 million and looks like neither can he.  But then there’s the grand study I referred to in my “Once Upon a Time” Post that I’m definitely going to get to soon that says school districts have hired bunches of staff, not teachers, over the last 30+ years and all that money could have gone to teacher raises.  My informed hunch is that when we examine the data we’ll see that the largest “non-teacher” employee growth has been with teacher assistants—who work directly in classrooms with children.

Back to the FOX forum, Mr. Bond, to show how money is readily available for teacher pay raises, used Catoosa as an example.  I’m not fact checking any of this but from his and Shawn Hime’s comments it seems this happened:

  1. Catoosa sold land for $700,000 and put it in the building fund.
  2. Catoosa in 2013 voted $900,000 of bonds to erect a press box at the football stadium which they planned to combine with the $700,000 for a $1.6 million project.
  3. It would cost $700,000 to give Catoosa teachers a $5,000 raise. Or maybe to restore a 5-day week since the 4 day week is only saving $200,000.

So Mr. Bond suggested Catoosa should do that and live with a $900,000 press box.  Mr. Hime came back at him saying it’s unconstitutional to use building fund money for teacher raises.  And Mr. Bond retorted he didn’t think anyone would sue over that.  Wow.

Food for thought:

I can’t cite this off the cuff but if the land sale was of land bought with bonds still outstanding then I believe the sale proceeds would first have to be used to retire the bonds.  However, from the comments I don’t think that applies.

Here’s the language in Title 70, Okla. Statutes, Section 1-117:

School districts which receive monies from rental, sale, or lease of buildings, impact aid monies, or grants, gifts or donations for capital purposes, whether from state, federal, or other sources, may place such monies in the building fund authorized by Section 1-118 of this title or the general fund authorized by this section.

So candidly it is not clear to me that Mr. Bond was proposing an “unconstitutional” act.  Even if the funds were restricted to building fund uses there is enough overlap in uses between the general and building funds (see Title 70, Okla. Statutes, Section 1-118) that for most school districts the $700,000 could be used to offset teacher pay increases from the general fund.

However, being legal doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea and certainly these facts are unique to Catoosa and cannot readily be applied to all districts.  The worst part about his proposal is to use one-time funds to finance a permanent teacher pay raise.  Any prudent superintendent and board would ask the question, OK Mr. Bond, your idea may get it done this year, but what about next?  Do we then sell the elementary school to keep the raises in place?

Rather it’s just more drivel from the OCPA, an imaginary $100 million here, an unneeded stadium press box there, and just lay off all the teacher assistants, then presto there’s your $5,000 teacher pay raise.


This post photo above is from our vacation through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and back to Oklahoma through Missouri.  It’s a great country.  The event I was watching was as painful as an OCPA blog.  Lunch on me if you are the first to guess.

My good friend Jim Brown nailed the photo.  Heard today on NPR a state produced story linking recent and tragic Tulsa police shootings with memories of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.  Even though I attended Tulsa schools K-12 I did not learn about the riot until I taught at Wilson Junior High where Jim taught Oklahoma History to 9th graders and courageously included a unit on the Tulsa Race Riot.  He brought into his classroom riot survivors to share their memories with his students.