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The Bottom Line

    Calculating Value

    When assessing the value and impact of different staff roles in K-12, where do familiar metrics fall short?

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    In this article, we unpack a common perception that reducing administrator pay (or cutting positions) is the key to paying teachers more.


    1. Percentages can be a problem.
    2. Ratios are better.

    3. Ratios don't tell the full story.

    4. Can't we still remove admin to pay teachers more?

    5. Key takeaways


    Percentages can be a problem. ⚠️


    Why do some people think paying administrators less (or removing positions) is the key to paying teachers more?


    One likely culprit: using percentages to show personnel growth over time.


    Between 2000 and 2021, the total number of district officials and administrators* increased by 47%. Seems like a lot!

    But percentages require context, especially if you're using them to compare two different-sized groups.


    In the U.S., teachers and instruction aides outnumber district officials/administrators 49 to 1.


    Based on this ratio, let's say there are 1470 teachers/aides and 30 district administrators at Aardvark Public Schools (fictional district). What would an immediate 47% increase in the # of staff members look like, per group?

    • Instruction staff = 691 more people
    • District admin staff = 14 more people


    That's a difference of 677 people between the two examples!


    We know that 47% of 691 and 47% of 30 are not the same. But when reports don't share base numbers, "a 47% increase" could mean anything. Denominators matter.


    *District administrative staff contains two subgroups: Officials/administrators and Instruction coordinators. We focus only on officials/administrators, who make up roughly half of all district administrative staff.


    Ratios are better. ➗


    Student-staff ratios are a more meaningful and intellectually honest measure when it comes to comparing changes to staff capacity over time.


    At Aardvark Public Schools, there are 17,424 students.* Increasing the number of district admin positions by 47% right now would add 14 staff members to its group of 30. If these 14 new hires magically materialized overnight, the student-staff ratio would narrow by about 185 students.

    • 30 administrators =
      581 students per administrator

    • 44 administrators =
      396 students per administrator


    Back in 2000, the average student-staff ratio for district officials/administrators was 816 students per staff member.

    Spelling out these ratio changes reveals the practical, on-the-ground impact of "47% personnel growth."

    *This student total is based on the 2021 national student-staff ratio for district officials and administrators: 580.8 students per administrator.


    Ratios don't tell the full story. 📘

    Ratios are better than percentages, but they still fail to explain increased workload for administrators (and teachers) as student needs keep growing.


    Since 2000, there are at least...

      • 5 million more students eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch
      • 1.47 million more multilingual learners (see 2000-20 & 2011-21)
      • 963,700 more students being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
      • 440,000 more students who lack a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence

    Additionally, labor market changes especially since the pandemic have demanded a different type of student experience, requiring new investments in education technology (money and training), as well as mental health support. Physical buildings have also aged in the last two decades.

    Here's a simplified analogy: A half a century ago, a full-service apartment building might have only needed a staff of 5: front desk, janitorial/cleaning, building maintenance (electrical, plumbing), and a secretary to oversee tenants and rental agreements. Today, that building might also need security, IT staff, an additional maintenance worker (HVAC, older construction would require more upkeep), a concierge, and an office/HR manager.

    A fairer, more accurate way to calculate administrative value would be to explain:


    • the number of responsibilities per staff member
    • the level of effort and time required per responsibility
    • the budget amount/money overseen per administrator


    Can't we still remove admin to pay teachers more? 💸


    At Aardvark Public Schools, let's say:

    • Operating budget (excludes capital & debt) is $300,100,000
    • 53% goes to Instruction Compensation (national average)
    • 1.2% goes to General Admin Compensation (national average)*


    If Aardvark Public Schools decides to remove all its district officials/administrators, it could free up 1.2% of its budget for 33 new teachers/aides (at $70K salary + $38K in benefits) OR a 2.3% raise for each of its current teachers/aides.

    In exchange for a 2.3% raise ($163/month before taxes), teachers would need to work more hours or take hours away from their duties to focus on...


    Payroll, Accounting, Budgeting, Human capital (including all recruitment and hiring), Purchasing, Enrollment, Facilities management, Professional development, School board relations, Communication with parents and staff, Media relations, Information act requests, Grants, State and federal reporting, Compliance, Legal issues and litigation, Student transportation, Home and hospital programs, Nutrition and food services, Education technology management, Testing coordination, Information technology, Athletics, Devices, Inventory and assets, Capital projects, Liaising with state and local governments


    The tradeoffs just aren't worth it. Or humanly possible!


    *Both percentages are based on the division of expenditures per pupil in unadjusted dollars for 2020-21 (excludes capital outlay and interest on school debt).

    *General Admin Compensation does not include compensation for instruction coordinators. The NCES groups "expenditures for curriculum development" (including compensation) under Instructional Staff Support, not General Administration.


    Key Takeaways 🗝️


    • When comparing K-12 staffing growth between groups of vastly different size, percentages can be misleading. Staff-to-student ratios are clearer, more comparable measures of staff capacity changes over time.

    • Staff-to-student ratios still fall short! They offer the illusion of explaining fiscal responsibility, educational quality, and student experience because they superficially imply all students have the same needs. But as needs continue to grow and diversify, these ratios lose their authority.

    • There is nuance here. In-depth analyses of duties per staff member can help us more fully grasp administrative value and impact.

    • Cutting district administrative positions is an ineffective shortcut to, and red herring from, discussing real policy solutions for fair teacher compensation.

    • Use the Allovue Calculator to compare instruction vs. general admin compensation costs in your own district.

    Published May 3, 2024


    Allovue works with districts and state departments of education across the country to allocate, budget, and manage spending. Allovue's software suite integrates seamlessly with existing accounting systems to make sure every dollar works for every student. Allovue also provides additional services such as chart of accounts and funding formula revisions.