Inefficient Use of Time And Money
by Alex Saitta
October 29, 2007
Bureaucracy Eating Up Taxpayer Money and Teachers' Time:
The education bureaucracy or the system itself is eating us up. Some say I'm hard on the teachers or against them. You'll have to prove that point to me. I'm crticial of the system or the bureaucracy which inefficiently uses our tax dollars and teachers time. I'm also hard on the district leadership, which has created this bureaucracy and is afraid to reduce its size.
In Pickens County only 58 cents of every school tax dollar is spent in the classroom. Of the rest, some is needed, but the rest is spent on things like extra managers the district doesn't need, new logos that will not raise one child's test score one point, or extra interest because the district takes out short-term loans to get the money it needs to make its annual payments on its $336 million loan.
The bureaucracy is also eating up the teacher time too, and I object to that as much as I do the growth in non-classroom spending. Years ago when school districts were smaller, teachers spent most of their time in the classroom, in face to face instruction. In private schools, teachers spend most of their time preparing for lessons and teaching the child. As the public school bureaucracy has grown, more teacher time is being devoted to professional development, meetings with instructional coaches or guidence counselors, learning the latest and greatest new educational program, or filling out paper work.
Efficiency occurs when an organization focuses its time and money on things that produce results. As the bureaucracy grows, a smaller percentage of the money AND teacher time is spent in the classroom.
They are tied together.
One desired career path in the education system is to teach and then move into management so the employee can break above of the teacher pay scale, and that higher salary in the latter years will make the employee's retirement check larger. Given that, there is a powerful incentive for those in the system to create more management positions. The result is more high priced managers and this shifts money to administration, and the percentage of money that goes to the classroom falls, and the children suffer.
Now here is the link. When you have more managers, what do they do? They create more rules, more programs and call meeting after meeting. All that flows down hill and lands squarely on the heads' of those at the bottom of the organization or the teachers. In turn, more of the teachers' time is spent outside the classroom filling out paper work or up late at night learning the latest technology, and the children suffer there too.
As a Pickens School Board Trustee, I am concerned too many changes are occurring at one time and our school district is bogging teachers down with more non-teaching activities. Since mid last year, our district leadership has undertaken many new initiatives, some good and some not so good, but all are stressing teachers, and further reducing teacher lesson preparation time and face to face instruction with students.
Such initiatives include scope, sequence and MAP testing, learning the Promethean Boards, laptops, and the new email system, the mandated usage of Integrated Pro, a surge in professional development classes -- "TerrificTuesdays" -- and coming down the pipe is Curriculator, which will require teachers to put all their lesson plans on the computer.
Number #1 Concern Made Worse:
When we were searching for a Superintendent, the school board held a series of focus groups. In the teacher focus group, I went off the path a bit, and asked the teachers what their top concerns were. Number one on their list was they don’t have enough time for lesson preparation and their non-teaching tasks keep growing year after year.
Obviously, the district leadership didn’t ask the teachers what their major concerns are, because the district office’s list of changes made their number one concern much worse. This indicates the district leadership is dictating these changes -- here is what we want, now go do it. That's unwise.
While some of their changes may be successfully implemented, that approach always kills morale. That is what I think is happening. My feeling is the district leadership is pulling back a bit, not because it thinks it is best, but because it is being pressured to do so. Their “our way or the highway approach” isn’t going to work, and if it isn’t scrapped, I suspect we’ll see some talented teachers leave the district at the end of the year.
The Wise Approach:
When management is looking to make changes, it also needs to identify the top one or two concerns of the employees. Then when management implements their agenda for change and improvement, it must do so while trying to solve the main concerns of workers at the same time. Creating win-win situations can be done, if the leadership asks questions, listens and is skilled at management.
A staff of 1,1000 teachers can not possibly assimilate all these changes in the time they’ve been asked. This goes back to my previous and often made point about the $6,000 pro-boards and laptops. The teachers who are the technology runners or the top 40%, will learn the pro-boards and laptops and fully utilize them. However, the walkers and crawlers aren’t going to have the extra time they need to learn how to use these machines to their full potential, because they are also being asked to learn and do many other new things. They are unlikely to fully utilize the pro-boards and lap-tops. Thus, in many cases, we spent all this money on those boards and laptops and they will not be utilized to their $6,000 potential.
By reducing the size of the bureaucracy, more money will end up in the classroom AND teacher lesson and instruction time will begin to rise too. And that will benefit the students.
I'd love to see the Superintendent stand up and say, "Finance staff, you do a good job keeping the books and creating accurate financial statements. But the bottom line is, that doesn't help educate children, cut the dropout rate or raise test scores. Why don't you analyze our expenses and give us a list of things we can do to raise the percentage of money we spend in the classroom and lower the percentage we spend on everything else."
One of my first suggestions would be we have too many managers, directors and coordinators that are giving orders, making life for teachers too complicated and stressful, and taking them away from instruction.
I'd also love hear the board leadership say, "Curriculum staff, why don't you give us a list of things our teachers are being asked to do that is taking them away from classroom preparation time or in class instruction. When you come back with that list, we'll eliminate all or some of those things so we can get this bureaucracy off the backs' of teachers and get them focused on the classroom again."