Education burdened by unnecessary administration costs

Administrators have taken over education.

Between 1992 and 2009, the number of district administrators grew by 36 percent in Illinois. That is 2.5 times faster than the growth in student population, according to the nonprofit group Ed Choice.

Many district administrations - over and above what already exists at the school level - are simply unnecessary. They are redundant, and don't add educational value to the people who are often considered last in school funding, the students.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, nearly half of Illinois school districts oversee only one to two schools. More than one-third of all district offices serve fewer than 600 students. And many districts inexplicably overlap.

Take, for example, Lake Park Community High School District 108 and the five elementary school districts that feed it. They already share overlapping boundaries and taxpayers. Yet each individual district has a superintendent and several tiers of administrators - many of whom perform identical functions.

These school districts could be consolidated into one. Identifying opportunities like this could cut Illinois' 858 districts in half, and would free up hundreds of millions of operational dollars annually and billions in pension costs over the next 30 years.

Nearly 8,000 education officials across Illinois now make six-figures in total compensation. Superintendents from Springfield to Rockford to East St. Louis all take in more than $225,000 in total compensation.

In the Northwest suburbs, Kathleen Hyland of Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 made $300,000 in 2016. Supt. David Schuler of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 earned $345,000. And Supt. Dan Bridges of Naperville Unit District 203 earned $391,000.

Assuming Bridges retires at age 60, he will collect about $8 million in pension benefits during his retirement.

Teacher and administrator pension costs now consume nearly one-half of what the state appropriates to K-12 education. Just a decade ago, pension costs consumed just one-fifth.

It's no wonder classroom funding has stayed flat, despite the billions more pumped into Illinois education over the past several decades. The Illinois Policy Institute found 89 cents of every new tax dollar in additional education funding in Illinois goes toward retirement costs.

If lawmakers truly want more funding for classrooms, they'd begin with an end to pensions by moving all new workers into 401(k)-style plans. They'd demand a reduction in the hundreds of overlapping districts and the bureaucracies that run them. And they'd call for moderation in administrator pay.

Fixing Illinois funding - and avoiding billions in tax hikes - means taking the focus of funding away from the bureaucracy and putting it back on classrooms.

Ted Dabrowski is vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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