BREAKING: Post-Katrina New Orleans Schools Costs More, Admin Salaries a Main Reason
On January 17, 2017, the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans (ERA) released a report entitled, “Does School Reform Equal Spending Reform?”
The short answer is no, and those who push to decentralize a school district in the name of “choice” should be prepared to spend more if for no other reason that a loss of economy of scale– in other words, of paying for the loss of centralized operations.
Then there are issues related to those running the decentralized schools– the administrators.
In the ERA report, these individuals were the principal reason (pun intended) for the finding that post-Katrina New Orleans publicly funded education (which is now chiefly done by charter schools with their own charter management orgs.) costs 13 percent more ($1,358) per pupil than it does in comparable Louisiana school districts– districts with comparable per-pupil spending pre-Katrina.
The greatest increase for New Orleans schools goes to its administrators, as ERA reports:
Spending on administration in New Orleans’ publicly funded schools increased by 66% ($699 per student) relative to the comparison group, far more than the overall spending increase. Of this increase, 52% ($363 per student) is due to a rise in total administrative salaries. Roughly one-third of the increase in administrative salaries is due to hiring more administrators, and the remainder is due to higher average salaries per administrator.
In an attempt to explain the possible reasons for the astounding administrative costs in New Orleans’ post-Katrina *publicly funded schools* (I love that term; it’s so politically disarming), ERA offers the following, for starters:
One possible reaction to the higher salaries for administrators is that charter school educators are using the reforms to enrich themselves. However, it is worth noting that charter schools are more likely to hire educators with degrees from elite colleges and school leaders with business backgrounds, people who typically earn high salaries outside of education. The higher salaries may partly reflect the other professional opportunities available to the new educator workforce.
Comprehensive audits examining the degree to which those administrators might just be “enriching themselves” via the public coffer are long overdue. However, I’ll set that aside for now and focus on the draw of the elite-educated, business-backgrounded admin who is paid more, well, because business people have greater professional opportunity than those who might lack such ambitious reach and settle for state-school degrees in education.
The problem with paying juicy admin salaries in “publicly funded” schools is that doing so is not sustainable. Indeed, no school can survive without teachers, and ERA has discovered that even as post-Katrina admin costs rose notably, instructional costs declined by $706 per student in New Orleans– which includes drops in staff benefits ($353 per student) and staff salaries ($233 per student).
Another noteworthy issue is that New Orleans schools have become dependent upon a supply of less-experienced teachers– which ERA posits might explain those ballooning admin costs:
The hiring of additional managers might be related to the reliance on younger teachers who no doubt need more active leadership and professional development. The substantive issue is whether this alternative model—trading off more managers for lower teacher experience—is good for students. From what we know so far, the system is working to improve measureable student outcomes.
Even if the New Orleans reforms are judged positively, however, it is not clear whether this model is sustainable financially. There are signs that interest in New Orleans is abating among younger teachers and growing concern about the constant churn of teachers who do not plan to stay or make teaching a career here. The state government is also in dire financial straits and may eventually have to either reduce spending or force charter schools to pay into the state pension system. Something will have to give.
ERA’s point about New Orleans schools improving “based upon measurable student outcomes” is a loaded statement. If nothing else, there are no “measurable” outcomes on students who disappear and who cannot be traced because a decentralized system has no means of effectively accounting for all of its students.
As of 2016, the New Orleans Miracle continues to be a mixed bag. Most New Orleans publicly-funded schools are charter schools, and the school grades are heavily C, D, and F. (School performance scores can be accessed here.)
The high schools taken over by the state in 2005 have yet to break a 17 composite ACT score.
But these *successes* aside, not only is the fiscal sustainability of charter-portfolio New Orleans in question; according to ERA, the young, churning teacher population is showing a waning interest in investing a couple years of their lives in New Orleans’ publicly-funded classrooms. Indeed, Teach for America (TFA), a primary supplier of temporary teachers, is itself facing recruiting problems.
Temp teachers are becoming scarce in miraculous New Orleans.
And when it comes to the Louisiana state budget woes— forget about it.
New Orleans schools might just have to bow to economy of scale and return to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), not as a “portfolio district” of separate charter schools, but reunited as a traditional school system for the sake of survival.
The ERA report offers more info than noted in this post. It is worth the read.