Shortly before we posted our first story on Senate Bill 1382—a bill that, like a few others, proposes consolidating dependent schools districts with the larger districts they serve—we reached out to the author, Senator Brian Bingman, for responses to a few questions we had about the bill. Nearly a full month later, he’s responded in a mass email. See his response on the topic below:
We are all passionate about our local schools because we want the best education possible for our children. I attended the public schools in my hometown, and so did my children. My wife is a public school teacher. I absolutely appreciate the importance of our local schools, no matter the size.
That’s why my proposal would not close a single Oklahoma school. This bill would simply streamline administrative functions so we can get more of the dollars that go to education directly into the classroom. Oklahoma has 77 counties, but we have 550 school districts, and each one has its own administration and associated costs. From 1992 through 2009, the student population in Oklahoma grew 10 percent while non-teaching staff grew 28 percent.
Though the email didn’t state it’s source for this data, it’s possible that Senator Bingman is quoting from an editorial published by The Daily Oklahoman from Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman. That same editorial supports removing minimum salary statutes for teachers, and for 60% of funding to be used in classrooms, instead of administrative overhead.
If efficiencies in the system can be realized and savings redirected to the classroom, we owe it to our dedicated teachers, and our students, to pursue those reforms.
I understand there are some dependent districts that outperform independent districts which is why we are looking at modifying the bill to provide exceptions for high-performing dependent districts. There are other measures looking at streamlining administrative costs for all types of school districts.
We recently reported that in 2011, Tulsa Public Schools made a concerted effort to consolidate (and close) 14 schools in an effort to reduce administrative and transportation costs. The total cost savings of that move was found to be less than 1% of the entire TPS budget for that year.
Senate Bill 1382 will not make it out of committee this session. However, the discussion about streamlining administrative costs is ongoing for this legislative session. It’s important we continue the conversation about how we can ensure all Oklahoma students have the opportunity to benefit from the best teachers, advanced classes and technology to which they may not currently have access.
In 2014, a study was done by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute [PDF] on a national level to investigate the financial cost of what they called “The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach.” While it’s true that on average 50% of a school’s staff is categorized as “other,” (a percentage that has grown only 10% in 40 years) Oklahoma has the 16th-lowest ratio in that category for every 1,000 students. The Hidden Half includes custodians, bus drivers, food service, I.T. and virtually every other position that does not require a teaching certificate. Since 1993, the number of administrative positions per 1,000 students has risen from 7 to 9.