Sunday Focus: Why are costs up when enrollment is down?

Published 12:50 am Sunday, October 15, 2017


NATCHEZ — Despite losing more than one-quarter of its enrollment since 2006, the Natchez-Adams School District’s annual expenses have risen by nearly $3 million in the same period.

Mississippi Department of Education records show NASD enrollment numbers have dropped from 4,803 students in 2006 to 3,561 students in 2016.  Preliminary numbers for the 2017-2018 school year show the school district has lost an additional 144 students in the past year.

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As enrollment has decreased, so too have expenses for instruction, but one subset of funding continues to grow.

Audits filed with the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor, reflect money paid for administration, principals, librarians and other non-instructional positions has grown from $12.8 million in 2006 to $15.6 million in 2016, a 20-percent increase.

In the same time period, the funds allocated for classroom instruction in the school district have dropped from $20.7 million in 2006 to $17.5 million in 2016, a 15-percent decrease.

Why hasn’t the cost of support services decreased with enrollment and instruction expenditures?

NASD board members and Superintendent Fred Butcher referred questions concerning the budget to business and finance manager Monica Anderson, who was unavailable for comment after multiple attempts to reach her last week. Marvin Jeter, a former school improvement officer and current education counselor, said schools undergoing change — growth or shrinkage — often forget to monitor administrative ratios as thoroughly as they do student-to-teacher proportions.

“When you have a district with a certain number of supervisors,” Jeter said, “even though there are fewer students and fewer teachers and classrooms, you just don’t think about the fact that you don’t need quite as many people supervising those teachers as you did in the past.”

Jeter was recently hired by Natchez United as a consultant and education expert.

Natchez United is a recently founded community group headed by Jeremiah Rios, Garrett Yelverton, Sammy Qadan and Eldrick Young.

Rios said the group believes a lack of quality education has eroded the economy of the county. The goal of the group, Rios said, is to solve both problems by improving education.

“The goal is to improve public education. By having him (Jeter) on board, we know we have someone who knows what’s going on in the system,” Rios said. “He brings the how to the table. Everybody has the why — we want to see a successful public school system. “

Jeter, who has a background as a teacher, superintendent and improvement officer for a transformation district in Mississippi, was hired to help the group better understand how to approach problems in the school district.

Jeter said he has more commonly experienced districts that forget to expand their administrative positions to accommodate a growing student body, creating a leadership void.

In Natchez’s situation, wherein the district is shrinking, the same oversight could be detrimental.

“You need to make sure you don’t get too much upper-level administration and take money away from the classrooms,” Jeter said. “The people in those positions are staying, meaning they get increases for years of experience without the same sources to pay them for keeping those positions.”

In the last decade, the dollar-per-student ratio for the district has grown from approximately $7,673 in 2006 to $9,998 in 2016.

However, as instruction funds decrease and support services increase, that number may be misleading.

In 2006, dollars-per-student ratio for classroom instruction was $4,318, whereas in 2016 the ratio grew to $4,902, a 14-percent increase over a 10-year period.

In comparison, when calculating the dollars-per-student ratio for support services, the number nearly doubles from $2,679 in 2006 to $4,380 in 2016.

Currently, the school district employs approximately 600 people, 233 of which are teachers or permanent substitutes and 102 of which are paraprofessionals.

Of the $17.5 million spent in instruction in 2016, approximately $11.5 million was allocated to these positions.

The salaries of these employees — and others who interact with students on a daily basis — are funded through the money allocated to instruction.

As presented on the NASD website, approximately 70 men and women are employed at the district’s administration office.

These positions vary widely — from technicians and administrative assistants to supervisors, directors and superintendents and were allotted approximately $3 million in salaries in 2016.

“Seventy is justified over a larger school district, but when you look at districts that are the size of Natchez, you typically see more like half that number of district-level employees,” Jeter said. “They haven’t pulled back there.”

With the same demands coming from support services without the additional funding from enrollment that the district had years ago, Jeter said the money has to come from somewhere.

“If you have the same number of dollars, you can only divide it in so many ways,” he said. “The problem is, you’re keeping an inflated number of administrative positions.”