A Letter For Hallie

  Spreckles Organ in Balboa Park, San Diego; the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.  ID’d by Tom Spencer.

We leave soon to spend two weeks touring historical sites, in a country with responsible adult leadership, related to the 500th anniversary of a pivotal event in world history.  Though focused on travel preparations I wanted to write another post before leaving without having to work too hard. Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Communications Associate Hallie Milner, by regurgitating arguments from Limited Thinkers I’ve previously debunked, handed me an easy assignment. Based on her title and photo I’m assuming she is fairly new to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs mission of misleading Oklahomans and that she still can learn how to thoughtfully analyze information and present truthful arguments that are not formed in advance of her analysis like her colleagues, the Fellows at the OCPA, usually do.  So I will not deem her to be a limited thinker this time.


Dear Hallie,

Congratulations on having a job with an organization whose mission is supposed to be doing research and providing information about matters of importance to the quality of life for the people of Oklahoma.  It is an opportunity to use your academic skills for the betterment of our state.  Unfortunately, based on my thoughtful review of many writings promulgated by your colleagues over the last year, summarized in my recent Declaration of Intelligence, they fall far short of any reasonable measure of quality.  In several writings about them I have demonstrated that they often are deliberately misleading, shoddily researched and of no useful value to Oklahoma’s policy makers.

Your July 17, 2017 post “Comparing Oklahoma School Districts To Surrounding States” is similarly deficient in a couple of ways.  I applaud that you tackled the issue of school district consolidation in Oklahoma; as a big city guy I’ve always believed that having fewer school districts would improve education in our state, though I admit my belief is not based on any real research, and your writing does not provide any other than to state the obvious that there would be fewer superintendents.  While the savings from having fewer superintendents is real, I doubt that it is highly significant, probably less than what we’d save if we got rid of either our state house or senate, a consolidation idea that also has much merit.  Rather the real savings would come from reducing the “fixed costs” to which you allude but about which you do not elaborate or quantify.

As a Tulsa Public Schools board member during the early 1980s when we were still adjusting to its dramatic decline in school enrollment, I reviewed many studies about the cost savings of school consolidation.  My recollection is that the primary savings came from not operating as many buildings, i.e. fewer custodians, lower utilities, less maintenance and repairs, etc., from having fewer building administrators, and from having larger class sizes when students are served in one building instead of two.  Most of the savings came from changes in staffing standards, but undeniably operating fewer buildings saves money.  And isn’t that the political challenge with school consolidation in rural Oklahoma:  fewer buildings means many small towns lose their primary employer and even their reason for being.  We also had to consider the increase in student transportation costs which in a rural setting would be even greater and some offset.

I suspect much has been written and researched about the experiences other states have had with school consolidation which might provide helpful guidance to our state’s policy makers, but instead of turning to the obvious you looked only at a brief summary of work by Benjamin Scafidi that I’ve reviewed in several posts, Purging the SurgeA Dirge for a Surge and Return of the Surge.  Based on his work you make this statement:

The abundance of school districts could also explain some of the growth of non-teaching jobs in Oklahoma public education. Between 1998 and 2011, Oklahoma increased school administration employees by 49 percent, while student enrollment only increased by 6 percent. In other words, in the Oklahoma education system, administration grew eight times faster than the students did. When federal or state overreach imposes burdens on local districts, those burdens can require hiring additional district-level staff. While no one can blame school districts for unfunded mandates, perhaps the cost of such overreach would be less if Oklahoma had fewer public school districts. 

By referring only to “school administration employees” you do not inform your readers that Scafidi’s work looks at two categories of employees—teachers and all others.  All others includes school administrators but mostly consists of “teacher aides, counselors, social workers, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, curriculum specialists, etc.” to use his most recent words.  In Oklahoma, if you did real research, I suspect you’d find that the largest numbers of “all other” are teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers– job categories most people would not consider as “school administration”.   Why then do you use the term “administration”?  If you are misinformed, then at least read the source material.  If you just want to mislead your readers, then you are working at the right place.

Now if your theory, that an abundance of school districts explains the growth in administration employees per Scafidi’s research, is correct then we should see a correlation between the number of students per school district in a state and the ratio of the growth in “administration” to the growth in students, namely an inverse relationship.  In other words, if we look at the six states you mentioned in your post, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, the “Scafidi Ratio” as I’ll call it, namely growth in non-teaching employees divided by growth in students, should be in the opposite order of your first graph and the same order as your second graph.  Specifically, Oklahoma should have the highest Ratio, followed by Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, and Texas, in that order.

Here’s the data from Appendix 1 of Scafidi’s most recent work, see Return of the Surge, that is based on student and employee growth rates from 1992 to 2015, and my calculation of the Scafidi Ratio:


State Student All Other Staff Scafidi
Growth Growth Ratio
Oklahoma 17% 36%      2.12
Missouri 9% 24%      2.67
Kansas 12% 50%      4.17
Arkansas 12% 50%      4.17
Colorado 50% 94%      1.88
Texas 48% 66%      1.38

The data doesn’t support your argument because the Ratio column should trend steadily down, but instead rises before it then falls.  If there is a relationship to the Scafidi Ratio it appears to be to the Student Growth percentage, i.e. the greater the student growth, the lower the Ratio, which has nothing to do with school district consolidation.

Again school district consolidation is a worthy topic for research by a think tank.  Think harder and maybe next time your writing will contribute meaningfully to the discussion.


As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the location of the photo above.  14 free lunches eaten so far.

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