Will the MMSD School Board Majority Appear to Let Administrators Preserve Jobs – Their Own?

A 2006 budget staffing discussion to come before the School Board tonight is about changes to administrative positions for next school year outlined in a memo to the School Board from the Superintendent. (Download memo on administrative changes for 2006-2007). The Superintendent is intending to save money through the elimination of several positions via resignations or retirements. I don’t remember seeing a dollar figure in the memo. However, I don’t feel this is an adequate administrative staffing reduction proposal at this time in the budget process.
What’s the big deal? If there are no other reductions made to the administrative budget prior to the end of this month, no additional reductions in administrative positions can be made due to requirements in the administrators’ contracts. This means that any and all other necessary reductions in staffing positions will have to come from those personnel who most likely work directly with students – teachers, SEAs, etc. I’m not proposing staffing cuts, but the School Board will be facing budget cuts this spring for next year.
To prevent this, the School Board might consider a minimum of a 20%+ reduction (vs. the proposed less than 5% reduction) in the administrative contract budget. Why? Later in the budget process, the School Board will be faced with cuts to custodians, teachers, etc. I believe the School Board could consider taking this action now to enable them to have the ability to make the best decisions on behalf of students when they have better information about what additional cuts will be proposed.
Last spring Lawrie Kobza made the following comment: “For the most part, our budget cuts are not based upon whether we are overstaffed in a particular area. I don’t feel that we cut teachers, or social workers, or custodians because we felt that we were overstaffed in those areas. We didn’t compare the District to benchmarks from other districts on custodial staffing levels to determine appropriate staffing levels for the District. We cut custodians because we had a budget that we had to meet.”

Cutting 20%+ of the administrative budget will give the School Board additional budget planning flexibility that is not available due to the current timing of contracts and the budget process. Will this be hard on administrative staff – certainly. However, I don’t think this will be any harder on them than it is on the thousands of teachers and other MMSD personnel who do not learn of their “fate” until late May (as the spouse of a teacher, I’m familiar with the stresses the uncertainty in the budget process brings). Some districts facing dire financial constraints have held off committing to their entire administrative staff. Some might find that approach to be extreme – others might say we are facing dire financial constraints that are destroying public education and these drastic decisions must be made.
Some people will ask – which positions? Won’t this encourage people to seek employment elsewhere? To the first question, I think the Superintendent is the appropriate manager to make these decisions (not the School Board). To the second question, there is that possibility but that possibility has to be weighed against what’s in the best interest of our children and the School District?
Lawrie Kobza made the following comment during a discussion of the Business Services Budget, “I believe that Roger has told us that staffing in Business Services is as thin as it can be if Business Services continues to perform the same functions it is currently performing. I believe that he also indicated that further staff cuts would mean that functions would have to be dropped. I accept that statement. But, what I would like to see from Business Services and Human Resources is a written report on what functions or services they would pull back from if their budgets had to be reduced by l0%, 20%, or 30% (or whatever percentages we ask about), and what it would mean to the District if those functions or services were reduced or eliminated. I believe that we should ask staff to prepare that written report for us. They have the most expertise on this, and undoubtedly they have given the issue of budget cuts in their departments a lot of thought.”

6 thoughts on “Will the MMSD School Board Majority Appear to Let Administrators Preserve Jobs – Their Own?”

  1. The obvious approach to take in this situation is not to renew the contracts of a number of administrators, to take the same approach that the District uses with teachers before the budget is finalized. You have staff who are informed that their positions are on the cut list, and if the budget cuts are less severe than anticipated, those staff members are then rehired.

  2. I believe teachers sign their contracts for the next year in March – however, this is not a guarantee of a job for next year. Teachers can still be surplused or laid off from their jobs. The process for this is governed by their contract.
    Teachers can be given surplus notices, usually in April, which can be a partial up to a 100% surplus from their job. Surplus notices can be given until July 1 (I think this is the date without checking the contract). Layoff notices can be given to teachers no later than 10 days before the end of the school year. While there is no contract language for administrators, a corresponding approach would be non-renewal of a administrative positions.
    The teachers surplus effects the next school year, so there is an “immediate” effect upon the education resources available for children’s learning and the budget. Administrative contracts are rolling so the financial effect of this approach would be for following years. School Board members have asked the Superintendent for a reduction in force plan for administrators. I do not believe this was supported by a majority of the School Board.
    Our School Board will be faced with budget cuts, so I go back to Lawrie Kobza’s comment – “For the most part, our budget cuts are not based upon whether we are overstaffed in a particular area. I don’t feel that we cut teachers, or social workers, or custodians because we felt that we were overstaffed in those areas…We cut custodians because we had a budget that we had to meet.”
    As a parent and taxpayer, the budget process appears to me to focus primarily on the next year. This is stressful for staff – all of whom are the most important resources in the school district. I feel the School Board needs to look out several years and develop staffing plans (including a staffing reduction plan) that don’t simply focus on fewer positions but also focus on what decisions can be made to re-allocate staff, retrain, etc., given the School Board’s priorities for the school district and the financial circumstances facing the district. I’d like to see more discussion of these issues in public meetings of the School Board’s Human Resources Committee and of the full Board.

  3. I see this whole exercise as a shell game/power struggle. Administrators are, for the most part, no more valuable than other staff. The upper echelon perform vital functions, but the mid-level folks do not. They just have seniority over the lower level administrators. It was one thing when, 4 years ago, this discussion was an attempt too keep administrators from fleeing if they weren’t guaranteed a job the following year. However, given the enormity of the budget cuts over a 10 year period, the administrators who aren’t “worried about their jobs” are nothing but fools. They should be worried! This year, they should be on the top of the list- not just retirees whose jobs won’t be filled, but lower and middle management. Let the upper level managers do the dirty work. It’s better than cutting teachers, social workers and psychologists and speech therapists.
    Just as my child’s 6th grade teacher has to “make it work” with little to no ELL support for 9 kids who don’t speak a lick of english, so too should an upper level administrator. Just as my precocious 7th grader who is bored stiff in math is forced to “deal with the homogenous class of his peers just like the real world”, so too should the folks who gutted TAG to the point where TAG should just be stricken from the MMSD completely.
    I’d be first in line to speak highly about the education my kids have received in the MMSD, but there is no doubt that this year they have dropped a notch in quality. $8 million out of the budget, if balanced on the back of schools, teachers, special ed and the working poor’s kids, will drop it another 2 notches. That’s why administrators cannot be guaranteed a job when there may be precious little left to “administrate” 🙁

  4. Thanks for all the other thoughts. Here, I turned out (again) to be long-winded… I hope this helps.
    Budget cuts to schools are brutal. Not only do many of the actual cuts hurt the district, but the stressful discussions around specific cuts take so much time and energy away form our main mission. I’d rather spend a couple of hundred dollars more per year in property taxes than to have it play it out this way.
    In large, complex, and public organizations with budgets of several hundred millions of dollars, we need effective administrators. We continually ask for more trasparency, more efficiency, more outside money, more efficient delivery of services. Who delivers on these requests?
    Consider those districts that have greatly reduced administrative services and have privatized. With reduced administrative staffing, have they become more effective, more responsive, more transparent, more creative? More importantly, have the schools improved as a result?
    If we’re bitter that our present administration isn’t giving us what we want or that it is changing too slowly, one strategy for effective changes is actually to give the administration _MORE_ resources and very specific charges that can be monitored/assisted by the larger community.
    Another point is that there is intellectual capital within the administration. Administrators often have very rich experiences with particular schools, programs, and initiatives. This is a long-term asset that can be easily disrupted with a bunch of short-term fixes. Because effective adminsitration is a long-term asset that is expressed within teams, I think it is dangerous to consider drastic cuts to administration in any one year. If the long range budget gap is predictable, we should be able to project what proportional reductions will be needed each year. Then, the administration could put forward those reductions. It seems that this is where we are now. The district wants to maintain as much of the effective, long-range capital it has, but puts forth recommendations for budget cuts that, while painful to make, are manageable.
    This is not to pit teacher and other staff reductions against administrative positions. Oddly, as a district makes more cuts, it needs more adminsitrators to manage the transitions made by those cuts. Ugly, huh?
    The key is, if cuts are the clear mandate of our community and state, how can we make those cuts throughout the district in the least intrusive way? A set of the less dramatic changes are a slight increase in class sizes over a large set of classrooms, moderate reductions in support and administrative staff, increasing activity fees, providing a more economically efficient benefits package for staff, selling off some district assets, and bringing greater efficiencies to all schools (use of space, lights, energy, and staffing).
    However, even with all of this, we’ll likely come up short, and there is likely to be cuts that will end up being disruptive for learning today and limit our planning for tomorrow.
    Of course, this is dropping us by 2 notches or more, so well stated by David Cohen. The other truth is that, under the current revenue caps, we’ll drop by 1 or 2 notches a year in a steady erosion.
    Finally, one of the major costs from the budget battles in hopes of significant reductions is the loss of interest in MMSD itself. One of the greatest sources of income we can have is new students. The thing is Madison, as a larger community with smart planning, could do a lot to bring 1000 or more new students to MMSD in the near future. That’s where are attention should be – building an even more attractive school district that is growing and more sustainable.
    Who would lead the charge of MMSD promotion so that we could bring in more kids and supporters? Administrators.

  5. Jerry: You raise a very valid point. The current situation that the MMSD finds itself in IS akin to the snake that eats its own tail. I do wonder, then, if some of these administrators could function away from Doyle and in school buildings where they could serve some dual purpose.

  6. Jerry raises a great point.
    Bringing back families who’ve left should be a high priority along with keeping those in the system with young children. The MMSD has much to offer, including excellent teachers and an extraordinary amount of public support. A discussion of what that approach requires would be useful.

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