District-Level Downsizing: Exploding State Budget Deficits Are Forcing Administrators to Cut Their Own Jobs

By Schachter, Ron | District Administration, June 2011 | Go to article overview

District-Level Downsizing: Exploding State Budget Deficits Are Forcing Administrators to Cut Their Own Jobs


Schachter, Ron, District Administration


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DRACONIAN CUTS have become the order of business for many school districts since the economic recession hit in 2008. But for the coming school year, "draconian" has taken on an even harsher meaning, as states from California and Texas to Illinois and New York wrestle with deficits in the tens of billions of dollars and make multibillion-dollar reductions in funding for education.

This time around, the name of the much-maligned ancient Greek legislator Draco easily could be replaced with any number of Republican and Democratic governors or state legislators trying to balance their budgets by exacting huge cuts in public services.

"States are cutting the heck out of education," warns Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "You add those cuts to the end of stimulus spending this year, and districts are coming to a cliff."

What district leaders are facing as they stare over that cliff are budget cuts on a scale they have never seen before--and an almost unprecedented reduction in the number of central office and school-based administrators. Domenech points to an AASA survey this past December of school superintendents, who indicated that 5 percent of their budget cuts are targeting fellow administrators.

"We expect that percentage to accelerate," adds Domenech. What's more, he says, whereas past job cuts were covered by attrition, half of the coming cuts will likely affect administrators who want to keep their jobs.

The entire administrative spectrum has become vulnerable, say Domenech and other educational leaders, from gutting such departments as assessment and operations at the district level to turning assistant principals into an endangered species on the school level, even as student numbers continue to increase in many districts.

"I've talked to old-timers who have been in education for 42 years, and they've never seen anything like this," reports Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. "We're a microcosm of what's going on around the United States, and it's tough."

In California, layoffs have narrowed the administrative corridor considerably. Over the past three years, almost 3,000 administrative positions have vanished--an almost 17 percent reduction, notes Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. In comparison, he adds, California has lost 20,000--or 6 percent--of its teachers over the same time.

With more than a $4 billion cut in state education aid looming, Wells foresees as many as 2,000 pink slips going out to administrators for the coming year, although those numbers could decrease if Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to temporarily raise some state taxes is approved by voters in November.

California isn't alone in its inclination to cut administrative positions at a more rapid rate than teachers. "Your first effort is to try to make the cuts as far away from the classroom," says John Allison, superintendent of the Wichita (Kan.) School District. Although administrator salaries account for just 2 percent of the district's $632 million budget this year, Allison continues, the district cut its central administration by 22 percent. "That's morally where we had to look first," he says. "Our bottom line is core instruction for our students."

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Losing Administrators

"We always believe that leadership has to illustrate and model what we expect others to do," adds Michael Bobby, chief financial and operations officer for the Charleston (S.C.) County School District.

In attempting to preserve jobs for the 2010-2011 school year in the face of a $25 million budget deficit, Bobby imposed an aggressive furlough plan of nine days for nonteachers, including all administrators, and four for teachers.

"Fast forward to 2011-2012," Bobby says, referring to the $28 million projected shortfall to the district's $339 million budget for 2011-2012. …

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