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Central office necessary, not a nuisance to providing public education

1453-1249689262vehtI’m really tired of suggestions that school boards can ease their school budget deficits by cutting more administrators from the payroll.

One of the latest to offer this all-too-common recommendation was Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who recently was talking about his state’s more than $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

“We don’t want to cut public education, so we’re going to have to go to superintendents of schools and say: ‘Listen, you’ve got to find us some administrators, some bureaucrats, some public relations people that we can cut, because we’re not going to furlough teachers,’ ” the Baltimore Sun reports Miller saying.

Now, I applaud any recognition of the importance of teachers—and protecting the instruction that goes on in the classroom. And I’m sure Sen. Miller means well.

But, really, this sounds like one of those off-the-cuff remarks that policymakers spout every once in a while.

And it’s not helpful. It just gets people thinking that there’s fat to cut in today’s school budgets. That many school district central offices are bloated, staffed by people who don’t do essential work.

It ain’t so.

School board members and superintendents know the reality. A school system is a complex, multi-million-dollar operation, and there is a lot of work to be done outside the classroom if teachers are to teach—and students are to learn.

After all, someone has to write those paychecks. Someone has to make sure the schools are compliant with the myriad laws and regulations that exist. Someone has to buy the toilet paper and textbooks.

Someone has to oversee maintenance on the school buildings, run the school bus fleet, and supervise and evaluate teachers.

“There’s a common misperception that you don’t need some central office positions, like supervisors,” Carroll County, Md., schools Superintendent Charles Ecker told the Sun. “We need administrators in schools and countywide, too. … You need some coordination, and to provide staff development and work on curriculum.”

Suggesting that schools don’t need a public relations staff also doesn’t recognize the reality of today’s Communications Age. It’s not that school people need a PR staff to cover their butts if controversy arises. It’s that school districts that don’t keep the public informed find themselves facing misinformed parents, misguided criticism, and education policy suggestions that have no basis in fact.

Such as suggesting that school systems need to trim their top-heavy administrative ranks.

“We have these positions for a reason,” Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney Cousin said about public relations teams. “They are central to what we do.”

I have faith in state lawmakers. I think Sen. Miller probably was simply emphasizing that the classroom is the last place to make cuts.

But if state lawmakers really want to help, they should figure out a funding system that makes public schools less vulnerable to the ups and downs of the economy. And they should trust local school officials to determine what their administrative structure looks like.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|February 18th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |


  1. Claus says:

    Excellent posting. Two related thoughts:
    1.) The reporting requirements of Race to the Top and the likely need to write proposals for competitive grants through a new version of ESEA will require even more administrative time. And all of this happens to ensure accountability and efficiency!

    2.) As a recent Education Sector report suggested, many of the best Charter Management Organizations have come to look more and more like school districts’ central offices as they provide services, technical assistance and oversight to their schools. The idea was to create efficiencies by eliminating central offices, but those central offices are becoming necessary cost centers.

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