JLF: N.C. schools add administrative and support staff faster than students

A new John Locke Foundation report examines “significant” growth in nonclassroom jobs over this  decade. Here’s a synopsis of the report by Terry Stoops of the JLF.

North Carolina’s public schools have added administrators, consultants, and other nonclassroom staffers faster than they’ve added students this decade. That’s a key finding in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

“It’s important to keep this rapid growth of nonclassroom jobs in mind as N.C. House budget writers recommend cutting positions to help fill the state government’s budget hole,” said report author Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation Education Policy Analyst. “While North Carolina’s public school enrollment has grown about 13 percent since 2000, the number of school personnel has grown by nearly 18 percent. Much of that growth has been outside the classroom.”

In 2003, North Carolina public schools had eight students for every staff member, Stoops said. “By 2006, that number had dipped to seven students per staffer,” he said. “There’s one teacher for every 14 students, one teacher assistant for every 45 students, and one administrative position for every 167 students.”

Much of the growth in school personnel has no direct impact on classroom instruction, Stoops said. “Since 2000, North Carolina school districts have added 435 staffers known as ‘consultants’ or ‘supervisors,’ and they’ve added nearly 2,000 people with the even more vague designation of ‘other professionals.’”

A 2008 study from researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina highlights the importance of spending money in the classroom, Stoops said. “This study of North Carolina high school resource allocation found that the effect of total per pupil expenditures on student performance is very small,” he said. “Meanwhile, researchers found that money spent on regular classroom instruction would have a sizeable impact on student learning outcomes.”

“Unfortunately, school districts across North Carolina have invested heavily in support services and staff, rather than classroom instruction,” Stoops added. “Schools that spent more in these areas had less money to provide for classroom instruction. Diverting resources from the classroom to supplementary services and staff may have contributed to lower test scores among sampled high schools.”

Seven school systems operated in 2007-08 with one staff position for every five students. They were Hyde, Jones, Northampton, Perquimans, Tyrrell, and Washington counties, along with the Weldon City Schools. In contrast, five North Carolina school systems ran with one staff member for every nine students. They were Burke, Catawba, Davidson, Gaston, and Pender counties.

Hyde County Schools counted just 10 students for every teacher, while the ratio was 11 students per teacher in Asheville City Schools and Jones and Washington County schools. At the other end of the spectrum, schools in Alexander, Davidson, and Hoke counties operated with 17 students per teacher, as did the Mooresville City Schools.

Variation was wider in other categories, Stoops said. “For example, Weldon City Schools had just 37 students for every administrative position, and Graham, Hyde, Swain, and Thomasville also operated with fewer than 60 students per administrative position,” he said. “Meanwhile, eight school systems reported ratios of more than 300 students per administrative position, with Richmond County Schools leading the way. Richmond had 584 students for every administrative position.”

Several factors have contributed to North Carolina’s “robust” personnel growth, Stoops said. “Efforts to lower class sizes, reporting requirements linked to state and federal programs such as No Child Left Behind, and significant funding increases from all levels of government have helped drive growth in the numbers of school personnel.”

“Regardless of the reasons for growth, school districts should pay special attention to spending on personnel because salary and benefits represent the largest single category of expenditure for public education in North Carolina,” Stoops added. “Last year, school districts spent $9.9 billion on salaries and benefits, accounting for about 83 percent of the state’s total expenditures on public education.”

School districts should tie funds for salaries and benefits of teachers, administrators, and other public school employees to performance measures, Stoops said. “Specifically, school systems should use transparent, outcome-based measures, including test scores and value-added measures, to reward the efforts of successful teachers and administrators,” he said. “School districts should also use personnel funds to attract highly qualified science, mathematics, and special education teachers to low-performing schools.”

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