Tuesday, January 26, 2010

If Personnel Costs Are 7/10 Of The Total...

If personnel costs are 7/10 of the total, what part can containing those costs play in a solution? 

Education is obviously a very personnel-intensive field. Our kids need teachers. And teachers' aides. And bus drivers. Custodians. Secretaries. Principals. Coaches. Translators. Occupational, physical, and speech therapists. And I don't think I've named them all.

So--if we need to cut, obviously personnel cost containment needs to be part of the solution. I think that the Ann Arbor schools should set a target for pay rollbacks, and work toward that with the unions. That seemed to work for Washtenaw County. Furthermore, if the overall target is 4% (a number I am making up), then perhaps that should not be distributed evenly. Flat rollbacks, just like flat taxes, are regressive. Put another way, 4% of the pay of someone who makes $25,000 is likely to be felt a lot more deeply than 4% of the pay of someone who makes $60,000. And, 4% of $60,000 is $2400 while 4% of $25,000 is only $1000. So perhaps people at the top should take 4.5% cuts and people at the bottom only 3% cuts. And it could be that health benefits should be included in these cost changes--certainly they are part of the overall package. [And by the way--I've already written about why I oppose privatization of bus and custodial services, but note that those bus drivers and custodians are definitely on the bottom end. Bus drivers' pay goes from $13-$19/hour, bus monitors from $10-$14, and custodians from $9-$18.]

Second--the district should institute an official hiring freeze. Even if it is a "soft" hiring freeze, and is somewhat easy to get around, it would require every permanent position to be justified. I think there might be a way to hire fewer teachers. Sometimes, teachers with one certification have the credentials to teach a different class...

Third--I would like to know what the short-term benefits of an early retirement package might be. Even if--down the road, say in 5-7 years--there wouldn't be savings, it would be good to know if there would be short-term savings. That could give us some time to change state school funding policies.

Fourth--Vacant positions that are still in the budget affect the budget, if not cash position. Eliminate those vacant positions (frequently they are in "hold vacant" status), and we eliminate the budgeted costs.

Fifth--Administrative personnel savings:
1. Is it possible to consolidate departments at the assistant superintendent level and eliminate an assistant superintendent?
2. Go to a 3-principal setup at the three big high schools: one primary principal, and an upper-class principal and a lower-class principal. We do not need 3 assistant principals at each school anymore. In two years, the schools will only have 1600 students in each school--it's possible that even 2 principals in each school would be enough.

Sixth--Personnel questions to think about:
1. An Education Week article recently pointed out that at some schools, roles that used to be extra-curricular have become classes. Returning them to extra-curricular activities can save money because you don't have to pay a teacher's time, but rather extra-curricular support (which is less expensive).  That reminded me that when I was in high school, Yearbook and Model U.N. were not classes. They were after-school activities. Would making these programs extra-curricular save money?
2. Does the trimester system cost more? I've tried it now for two years, and on balance I don't like it, but I'm asking if it costs more. Kids take 15 classes a year, versus 14 per year at the other schools, so it seems like it should.

Seventh--It's not exactly personnel (at least, it is not ours directly, though we pay), but:
Could we reduce or eliminate the police officers at each school? Even cutting their time by 1/3 (so we had the equivalent of when we had two high schools) seems like it might be worth it to me.


  1. What's sad is when the district has already switched classes to extracurricular activities, and then the budget gets cut for those. We've got that going on over here.

    - YpsiAnon

  2. That is sad! In my opinion, extracurricular stuff is the MOST IMPORTANT part of school. Nope, I'm not kidding. It was for me.

    YpsiAnon, see that I quoted you on the top right. If that's not ok, let me know.

  3. It's definitely OK. However, if I'd known I'd be quoted, I would've gushed more. I agree with Ed Vielmetti's quote. Your blog is civil and rational, an oasis among the crazies elsewhere. It hurts my soul to read some of the others, though I do it just to be aware of other perspectives.

    - YpsiAnon

  4. By the way, I really like your suggestion of having tiers for salary cuts. Our district has traditionally given identical percentage raises to all different employee groups, and it never seemed fair. So now, the upper-level administrators have agreed to 3% cuts and look at the rest and say, "Why aren't you offering to do this, too?" Perhaps because they are not making over $100K?

    - YpsiAnon