Carolina Journal News Reports
GREENSBORO — For North Carolina’s school systems, there’s apparently never a bad time to fill administrative positions.
In a difficult budget year where a doomsday scenario of massive budget cuts, massive layoffs, and compromised educational standards was constantly being painted for the public, Guilford County Schools found the funding to reinstate several administrative positions as staff put the finishing touches on its $590 million budget.
Included in the final budget revisions were a chief student services officer position at a salary of $165,000, a human resources director at a salary of $87,000, and two project manager positions at salaries of $71,000 each.
The Board of Education put up some resistance, but it was weak and the proposal passed by a vote of 9-2, with board members Garth Hebert and Darlene Garrett voting against. Incredibly, board members asked for job descriptions of a couple of positions, leaving the impression they weren’t clear exactly what functions the new hires would be performing.
“We could provide a job description for board members if that would be helpful,” said Superintendent Mo Green after he was asked about the chief student services officer.
Green defended the positions, saying they were part of the original budget he presented earlier in the year. But he also conceded that schools are still suffering from the effect of $22 million in budget cuts.
“Schools certainly aren’t being made whole — I certainly don’t want to give anyone that impression,” Green said. “But they certainly have gotten additional dollars.”
Garrett asked questions about the chief students services officer, which was reclassified from a supervisor’s position to a director’s position with a $6,000 increase in salary.
Beth Fogler, GCS’ chief academic officer, explained that the position was part of Green’s regionalization plan, which includes several new initiatives within student services, one of which is character education.
“The response we’ve received from the community and internally is that we need to put much more effort into that initiative,” Fogler said. “We need someone to supervise and lead that charge.”
Board member Sandra Alexander asked staff to adequately explain to taxpayers how it’s possible to hire new administrators when the district faces such daunting fiscal challenges.
“If I were sitting in that audience watching this meeting, the first thing I would say is this budget is too heavy with staff personnel, and that wouldn’t sit too well,” Alexander said. “What can you say to the audience that we’re not being extravagant in that area?”
Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ozment responded that although the positions were technically administrative, they directly support academic instruction.
Ozment also noted a study that was conducted several years ago comparing GCS to comparable school systems such as Wake County Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The study showed that GCS was “very lean in comparison to those districts,” Ozment said.
The reinstatement of administrative positions, even in the most difficult of budget years, follows a trend in North Carolina that has gone on for almost a decade now. A 2009 John Locke Foundation report titled “No Bureaucrat Left Behind” found that North Carolina’s public schools “continue to add administrative, non-instructional and instructional support positions at rates that far exceed enrollment growth.”
The report broke down statistics using various ratios, including students per guidance counselor, students per teacher, students per principal and students per administrative position.
According to the report, GCS had 119 students per administrative position, second only to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, which had 104 students per administrative position. Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg — much larger school systems — had 227 154 students per administrative position, respectively.
The report states that “since 2000, school districts received significant funding increases from federal, state and local governments, allowing school administrators to hire specialty and non-instructional personnel.”
Furthermore, school systems “should pay special attention to spending on personnel because salary and benefits represent the largest single category of expenditure for public education in North Carolina.”
This has been far from a normal budget year for any school system. GCS initially thought it would have to contend with as much as $38 million in budget cuts from the state. Making matters worse, Guilford County commissioners, on their own mission to radically streamline their budget, provided practically no relief, granting the school system the same operating budget as last fiscal year.
But the state ended up cutting only $21 million from GCS’ budget, and salaries for the administrative positions were part of the final $4.9 million left over after several revisions. Of the $4.9 million, $3 million was held in reserve for operational expenses or — in a worst-case scenario — if the state ordered the school system to return funds.
Hebert supported that plan, saying the “sky’s going to continue to fall,” referring to the state’s budget situation.
But Hebert’s support for reserving $3 million didn’t keep him from casting a “no” vote to reinstate the administrative positions, a decision that ran counter to the vast majority of his fellow board members.
Before casting her “no” vote, Garrett stated her views succinctly.
“I just think this money needs to go back to the schools,” she said.
Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.