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).

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