Lincoln School District in bottom third of state for administrative spending

Published 5:30 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

STANFORD — When it comes to the cost of school district administrators, sometimes referred to as “central office staff,” Lincoln County lands in the bottom 25 percent when compared to administrative costs for other districts in the state.

That’s according to Tom Shelton, president of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS). In an email from Shelton to Lincoln County Superintendent Michael Rowe, the KASS president breaks down the Annual Financial Revenue (AFR) data for the 2015-16 school year, which was taken from the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) website.

“As you know, we continue to hear that administrative is too large of an expense in school districts,” Shelton said. “I simply pulled the data from KDE website from 2015-16 and our state average is 4.84 (percent).”

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Shelton said since KDE’s financial management system MUNIS is part of the School-Based Decision Making (SBDM) Councils allocation, which includes more than just salaries and is not under the control of the district, he took the total District Administration, Business and Community Services categories to get a total administrative cost.

“Not many businesses I know that run on such low overhead,” Shelton added.

According to the data, Lincoln County ranks 134th out of the 173 school districts in the state, with one being the highest percentage of money spend on district administrators and 173 being the lowest.

Lincoln County’s total administrative cost is around $2.3 million, or 4.24 percent of total expenses.

Cuts from the top

An email from Rowe sent to Lincoln County School District staff Wednesday provided an update on the legislative status of the governor’s budget, as well as a recap of cost-saving decisions the district has made in anticipation of cuts in local education funding.

“As shared earlier, the district has enacted intentional cost-saving measures with the focus of limiting the impact on students and instruction,” Rowe said. “Since July 1, 2016, the district has saved $879,297 through attrition, transfers and not replacing open positions.”

While the House of Representatives recently reversed many of the cuts included in the governor’s proposed budget, the bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Lincoln County tentatively cut funding in next year’s budget equal to the average salary for 11.3 teacher positions and 12 instructional assistant positions, in anticipation of losing approximately $1.9 million in funding from the state — an outcome the superintendent said the district is working hard to avoid.

“My ultimate goal as superintendent is to find the funds necessary to limit staff reductions,” Rowe said.

In the email, Rowe said one question that he continues to hear is, “Why not start cutting from the top (referring to the Student Support Center)?”

“It appears I need to do a much better job communicating the Student Support Center restructure,” Rowe writes. “During any restructure, positions are both abolished and created. While it is easy to recognize the positions created it may be more difficult to remember the positions that were abolished.”

According to documentation provided by Rowe, the Student Support Center restructure, which began in the fall of last year, resulted in the elimination of six positions.

“Some of the positions were part-time but, nevertheless, six positions have been cut,” Rowe said. “These reductions have resulted in a savings of approximately $300,000.”

The document lists 14 original administrative positions that existed prior to the restructuring, including: three secretary positions; a director of teaching and learning; an exceptional childhood consultant; a district health coordinator; a director of personnel; EL and GT services; a part-time diagnostician; a building and grounds coordinator; a director of pupil personnel; a director of support services; a part-time GT coordinator; and a district assessment coordinator.

To the right of that list, the document shows the Student Support Center positions that remain as a result of the restructure, including: administrative assistant/secretary; administrative assistant/board of education secretary; elementary CIA coordinator; personnel and human resources coordinator; district nurse; director of exceptional child services; secondary CIA coordinator and director of pupil personnel.

According to Chief Academic Officer Jackie Risden-Smith, as positions were dissolved, responsibilities were absorbed by existing or restructured Student Support Center positions.

“That is a lot of work that has been added to staff and we’ve only been able to survive these cuts because our Student Support Center staff include some of the hardest working and most effective staff possible,” Risden-Smith said. “From processing purchase orders to leading new initiatives, they are committed to giving whatever necessary of themselves so that our students have the best educational outcomes possible.”

Through a partnership with the Prichard Committee and the DMGroup, as part of the Smart School Spending (SSS) initiative, Rowe said the district continues to work with an SSS Coach to analyze district spending habits and provide an outside “set of eyes” to provide feedback.

A letter from SSS Coach Jim Kennedy to Rowe dated March 6 includes the coach’s financial observations and analysis of the district’s administrative costs.

“An analysis of the districts’ administrative costs concluded that the district was operating at a very efficient level,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said administrative costs are always a “target” when budget cuts are needed, but further cuts to Lincoln County’s current level of administrative staffing and cost could “adversely affect student needs.”

“Overtaxing existing staff with additional jobs could lead to lost student achievement initiatives, as the staff is faced with meeting just the minimum requirements to comply with their various program requirements,” he said.

A study of Lincoln County’s student-to-teacher ratios identified possible teacher reductions that could result in savings of $200,000 to $300,000 and an analysis of student enrollment for the district’s elementary schools showed, due to extremely low enrollment at some schools, the district could “realize upward of $300,00 to $500,000 annual operating cost if a plan for consolidating some schools could be formulated.”

According to Kennedy’s observations, Lincoln County staff salaries also showed the district to be “significantly” lower than the average salaries of surrounding districts, which Kennedy said could lead to the loss of trained staff to higher paying districts in the area.

“In other words, Lincoln County may be absorbing the training costs of new teachers and then losing the best of them to surrounding districts,” he said.

While state senators continue to debate the budget, additional scenarios to free up funding will be discussed during the Lincoln County Board of Education’s March working meeting. A meeting date has not been set but will be scheduled during the week of March 12-16.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know what the future holds, but the budget scenario is looking brighter,” Rowe said in his email to staff. “You have my promise that I will do everything in my power to reduce unnecessary cuts throughout our entire district.”

Administrative costs in surrounding school districts: 

• Garrard County – $1,639,020 or 4.74 percent

• Casey County – $1,368,044 or 5.08 percent

• Pulaski County – $3,253,190 or 3.45 percent

• Boyle County – $4,457,585 or 14.97 percent

• Danville Independent – $1,212,832 or 4.57 percent

• Mercer County – $1,714,819 or 3.24 percent

(Data is for the fiscal year 2016 and was provided by the Office of Finance Operations, Division of District Support and District Funding and Reporting Branch.)