LAUSD administrative staff jumps 22 percent even as enrollment drops
Mike Szymanski | May 18, 2016
Despite projected budget deficits reaching nearly half a billion dollars and steep enrollment declines, LA Unified’s certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.
The number of teachers has dropped 9 percent in the same period. And teachers and certified staff are aging toward retirement, heading toward a possible teacher shortage.
The report was presented to the LA Unified school board Tuesday at a special budget meeting at USC to discuss ways of lowering a looming budget deficit.
The administrative staffing level increase surprised some of the board members.
“How is it possible that administrators went up so much when we have a decline in enrollment?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, shaking his head.
According to the report presented by Superintendent Michelle King and her staff, certified administrators increased from 2,146 in 2011-2012 to 2,628 positions in 2015-2016, a 22 percent increase.
Over the same period, K-12th grade teachers decreased from 27,208 to 24,863, a 9 percent drop.
Concerned that the chart could be “misconstrued,” King explained that many of the administrators are hired for programs located at individual school sites and involve staffing for restorative justice and foster programs that the school board chose to focus on in the past. Also, with the Local Control Funding Formula, schools asked for more local programs requiring administrators, not teachers. Of the administrators, 1,723 are school based while 905 are not.
“We invested in administered accounts, such as more restorative justice and foster programs where the ratios are one person to 100 foster youth,” King said. “You can see how that starts to expand when you’re talking about training for restorative justice coordinators and such. It is important to remember what we invested in and why this is the outcome to where we put our dollars.”
Meanwhile, King noted that in the feedback from a New Principals Survey she received, it showed principals expressing frustration with a lack of clerical staff, a lack of time to complete tasks and limited opportunities for instructional training. “Principals say there are not enough hours in the day to get everything they need done and improve teaching and learning due to a lack of sufficient personnel,” King said.
Some of the school board members emphasized that such statistics only add to the common thought that the district is top-heavy with administrative staff. “I know that’s not true because I know there are 2,000 people who are out of that building in Beaudry (the school headquarters),” said board member Monica Garcia. “We are still digging ourselves out of the days we gave 36,000 pink slips at one time.”
Board member Scott Schmerelson pointed out that he has heard complaints from principals with 900 children that they have no help in the front office.
“We need more administrators at schools sites, and I’ve been told all the reasons why we can’t do this and when I look at this I see the gain of all the administrators since I’ve been on the board and I’m really concerned about this,” said Monica Ratliff. “Maybe we need to move them to some of the school sites because that is where people are suffering.”
King said there’s a freeze on creating central office positions and on filling vacancies as well as a shift of resources to the schools. Central office budgets have also been reduced for next year.
King said the theme she sees running through a lot of the dialogue she hears is that there is a need for more training for the entire workforce. She said there is a lack of continuity and lower productivity for staff because they have to train new people coming in, and so retaining people would save resources.
King also pointed out that classified staff and teachers were aging closer to the 64-year-old average retirement age. Most of the classified staff (employees who are not teachers or administrators) are in the 45-to-54 age bracket. Most of the teachers are in the 41-to-45 age group.
“Everyone is marching toward that line, and that’s another piece we need to be attentive to,” King said. “There is a teacher shortage coming, and unfortunately, this is a perfect storm.”
A majority of the school’s budget, nearly 80 percent, goes to salaries and benefits, according to Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly. That aligns with the standards of a major corporation of a similar size, she said.
School board President Steve Zimmer said, “While these are high percentages we often hear that a majority of the money goes to adults not kids, and that’s not true. It takes people to operate, so that we survive, and that’s normal. It’s an important context that we are a service delivery organization and we are not out of line with other organizations our size.”
Reilly pointed out that since 2008, there has been a 19 percent decline in staffing levels for both classified and certified staff, from a high of 79,000 employees. She pointed out that at the same time the district built 131 new schools.
The average base teacher salary now stands at $75,434; it was $63,188 in 2007-2008. Pension costs that now take up 5 percent of the general fund will take up 9 percent in 2020-2021.
Zimmer pointed out that the district targeted early retirement for some employees, but it didn’t offset the projected $127 million loss of revenue expected in 2016-2017. Only $36 million has been saved through staff reductions so far.
Smaller schools also cost more to maintain because of supplemental staff, and King said, “We must make a decision if we should continue to operate small schools. We are paying the same costs to run a smaller school, is that where we want the investment?”
King said she followed the Independent Financial Review Panel’s report in reducing the teacher pool to 170 teachers. The report stated last November that the teacher pool was down to about 100 teachers, and it recommended that it be eliminated, saving the district $10 million a year.
The teacher pool is a group of teachers who are not assigned to a specific school or were displaced from their school and are still on full salary until they are added to a school.
King also said she is increasing employee attendance, though she didn’t cite numbers. The review panel said only 75 percent of LA Unified staff had “strong attendance,” a figure that should be at 96 percent, it said. Improving that would save $15 million in substitute staffing costs.
Pedro Noguera, a Distinguished Professor of Education in UCLA’s graduate school who has been advising the district and helped moderate Tuesday’s discussion, said the board should have a different way of thinking about how to approach the problems in the district.
“Don’t think ‘our job is to save the district,’ but ‘our job is to transform the district,’ because it is not possible to retain it as is,” Noguera said. He suggested the district look at several potential partners such as other universities and the city. “Think about what takes us out of the gloom. Not what to cut next, but how to recreate the system.”
He added that some districts are dismantling a deteriorating school system, but LA Unified still can be helped. “You are at a crossroads,” said Noguera, whose team is compiling notes and concerns brought up by the board during the full-day meeting. “You have to put it all together and take a comprehensive look and the make a salient plan moving forward.”
The next special board meeting is scheduled for May 31.