Response to “Taxpayer-focused perspective on K-12 staffing” from CJ Online 2014-08-10

Response to “Taxpayer-focused perspective on K-12 staffing” from CJ Online 2014-08-10

In this post, we will respond to some of the assertions/statements made in a Topeka Capital Journal blog entry from Sunday, August 10th entitled “Taxpayer-focused perspective on K-12 staffing.”

Below are a few quotes from the blog that will be addressed specifically in order to provide additional information and considerations.  Note that the data used for this response can be found here.

  • “Most districts (234 of 286) do not employ Assistant Superintendents, which would indicate that the positions may not be a necessary expense for which all citizens are obligated to fund.”

First, it is important to note that the funding for a particular school/district would not change if the district decided to hire or fire an assistant superintendent.  The blog post is talking about allocation of existing resources; which speaks to efficiency but not to overall funding.

Second, note that there are no standard naming conventions for administrative staff within districts.  The certified staff list includes 26 different job titles and the non-certified includes 28, but the manual for completing these forms from KSDE does not include definitions for each position.  Here are the titles and frequencies from the Certified and Non-Certified counts that the blog post includes as “managers”:
Title – Certified
Total FTEs
# of Districts
Assoc./Asst. Superintendent
All Other Directors/ Supervisors
Directors/ Supervisors Spec. Ed.
Instructional Coordinators/ Supervisors
Directors/ Supervisors Career/ Tech Ed
Directors/ Supervisors of Health
Title – Non-Certified
Total FTEs
# of Districts
Business Managers
Assistant Superintendents
Business Services:Directors/ Coordinators/ Supervisors
Food Service:Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors
Maintenance and Operation:Directors/ Coordinators/ Supervisors
Other:Directors/ Coordinators/ Supervisors
Technology:Directors/ Coordinators/ Supervisors
Transportation:Directors/ Coordinators/ Supervisors

It is entirely possible that what one district calls a Director of Career and Tech Ed might be called the Associate Superintendent for Tech Ed in another district.  The title alone does not indicate what duties each staff person actually performs, or how similar positions with different titles can be from one district to the next.  

The blog post cites Turner-KC as having 6 Assistant Superintendents.  First of all, that number is incorrect; the file actually shows 3 Assoc./Asst. Superintendents for USD 202 in the Certified table and 3 in the Non-Certified table; indicating the Assistant Superintendents were mistakenly repeated across tables.  KSDE confirmed this after a conversation with USD 202 admin staff, who have been instructed on how to report this data correctly in the future.

In addition, of the titles listed in the table above, Turner does not have many manager positions beyond these assistant superintendents.  Other districts have staff that perform much the same functions as the three assistants at Turner, but are called something else.  KASB collects similar information from school districts related to administrators.  According to KASB’s information for the 2012-13 year, Turner had an “Assistant Superintendent for Instruction/Curriculum” and an “Assistant Superintendent for Personnel;”  showing that two of the positions they reported to KSDE as “Assistant Superintendents” were very similar to other director/manager positions at other districts as shown on the list above.

Finally, we all should understand that no two districts are created equal; they are made up of different students, different communities, different sizes, and each have unique needs.  Dictating what titles staff at each of these districts can have is not a road to improved efficiency.  After all, what’s in a name?  

  • “…the average district had 153 full time equivalent students (FTE) enrolled for every manager.”

The blog post does not specify where the FTE enrollment numbers came from.  KSDE reports enrollment in terms of Headcounts on the same K-12 reports page where the Certified and Non-Certified numbers are publicly available, so it is unclear why these numbers were not used. Nonetheless for consistency we will use FTE enrollment numbers from the Comparative Performance & Fiscal System.

Using District Total FTE, and including the titles from the table above as “Managers,” the average ratio across districts is 153.87 student FTEs to every 1.0 FTE for manager positions.  This is close to the value of 153 the blog post cited for the average district.  However, calculating an average of the student to manager ratios across district means that district size is not taken into account.  If you instead total all students in the state and divide them by all “managers” across districts in the state, you see a ratio of 201.82 student FTEs to every 1.0 FTE for manager positions.  

The difference between these two calculations suggests that district size has an impact on the ratio of managers to students.  District size can be examined in two ways; in terms of number of students, and in terms of number of buildings.

Size – Student Population

If we look at the average ratio of student FTEs to manager FTEs based on total student population, we see the following:

Student FTEs
Number of Districts
Average Ratio
Greater than 10,000
1,000 to 10,000
500 to 1,000
250 to 500
100 to 250
Less than 100

This data suggests that the average ratio of student FTEs to manager FTEs increases as district size increases.  This implies an economy of scale, with larger districts showing fewer managers per student than smaller districts.

However, it is important to note that in smaller districts it is very common for the managers to also serve other roles; from teacher to coach to bus driver to any number of other non-managerial functions.  This is less common in larger districts where more positions make it more possible to have clearer divisions of labor.  So, the lower ratio in smaller districts can be somewhat misleading, as these managers are also performing non-managerial duties that would be separate positions in larger districts.

Also, it is important to note that some districts house Special Education Cooperatives; which require additional staff often at the manager level.  These are not easily identified and controlled for in the Certified and Non-Certified personnel report, and can have an adverse effect on the ratios reported for any district that supports a cooperative.  Further, the larger the district, the more likely they are to be a host for a Special Education Cooperative, so it is likely that the decrease in the student manager ratio for the districts larger than 10,000 student FTEs is at least in part due to the other services they support; such as those provided by the Special Education Cooperatives.

Size – Number of Buildings

Looking at the number of managers in a district compared to the number of building is an alternative to looking at the ratio between student and manager FTEs.  Looking from a business perspective, you would expect to have more managers if you have more locations, so it stands to reason that the number of managers would increase with the number of buildings, but that overall the ratio would remain fairly consistent.  

Using the number of buildings per district as reported by KSDE, we find that the average ratio of Number of Buildings to Manager FTEs is 1.22, and the statewide total ratio is 0.77.  Breaking this down into groups by the number of buildings, we see the following:

Ratio of Buildings to Manager FTEs
Ratio of Student FTEs to Manager FTEs
> 20

Note that all buildings reported to KSDE are included in these calculation; not just traditional elementary, middle/junior, and high schools.  

As the table and charts show, the general trend is for the ratio of buildings to managers to decrease as the overall number of buildings increases, while the the ratio of students to managers increases as the overall number of buildings increases.  So, the bigger the district, the fewer buildings a manager is responsible for, but at the same time the bigger the district, the more students each manager is responsible for.    Since overall student population is closely tied to the number of buildings per district (correlation = .96), it is difficult to determine how much these relationships are due specifically to the number of buildings, or to district size in general.  

  • “USD 322 Onaga-Havensville-Wheaton in Pottawatomie County is the most efficient in that regard, with 608 students-per-manager.”

USD 322 has a Superintendent who also serves as a Principal, which is why they are reported for only .5 FTE; resulting in a ratio of 608 when their headcount only equals 304.  Because it is common for superintendents to also serve as principals in smaller districts, presenting a ratio of managers to students that excludes principals is problematic.

Again using District Total FTEs, and this time including principals and assistant principals, the average ratio across districts is 83.67 student FTEs to every 1.0 FTE for manager positions.  The total ratio across districts is 114.23 students to every 1.0 FTE for manager positions.  With this calculation, USD 322 shows a ratio of 152 student FTEs  per 1.0 FTE for manager positions; still slightly better than the average, but not to the absurd extent suggested by the calculation presented in the CJ Online blog post.

  • “If a small district with similar composition of economically disadvantaged students can operate with few managers and have comparable outcomes, what does that say about districts with large management structures?”

Based on the data for Kansas, the number of managers in a district has no measurable impact on assessment results.  Regression analysis was performed with the district student-manager ratios (including principals) as the independent variable and the average percent meeting standards or above on the state assessments as the dependent variable.  Results indicate there is no relationship between these two measures (p > .6, correlation = .03, percent at basic and above on KS state assessments averaged across reading and math for grades 3-8 and 11).  

Does that mean the number of managers a district has doesn’t matter?  No, it does not mean that, but what it does mean is that a wide variety of other factors impact student achievement to the point that mathematically the number of managers per students cannot be used to predict student achievement.  These other factors include student teacher ratios, teacher quality, administrator quality, parental involvement, spending, and any number of others.  

  • “…more examples of significant variances in management and support staffing”

As noted above, there is wide variation the titles used for staff position and (particularly in smaller districts) it is common for a single staff person to “wear many hats.”  Focusing on the titles and their presence or absence in districts misses the point.  However, you will note that most of the specialized positions the blog post calls out on the bulleted lists are within larger districts, which as we discussed earlier are more likely to be able to have staff who can specialize in specific areas whereas staff in smaller districts are more likely to have to serve multiple roles.

In conclusion, we all agree that Kansas Schools should be empowered to run as efficiently as possible in order to maximize the value of the tax dollars going into the system and to maximize the success rates for the students coming out of it.  However, this is not going to be accomplished by following recommendations based on misinterpreted data in order to target changes that would likely have no impact on student outcomes.