Editorial | Administrative bloat

Editorial | Administrative bloat

Smaller school districts in Illinois should work together to reduce costs.

A 2017 study by the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council came to a shocking conclusion that appeared to require immediate action to address.

The study showed that Illinois school districts spent $1 billion on district-level administration in the 2014 fiscal year.

At $518 per pupil, the council reported, Illinois had the second-highest administrative costs in the country.

Administration costs are, of course, separate from education costs. It's in the classrooms where the rubber meets the road, not in the superintendent's office.

Administrative costs are unavoidable, but steps must be taken to minimize administrative costs so that those funds can be redirected to educating K-12 students.

Right? One would think so.

But change is hard, particularly when those who benefit from the status quo don't want to change.

That's why a new study of school administration costs for 2018 by the Metropolitan Planning Council shows that the numbers have gone up — from $518 per student in 2014 to $544 per student in 2016.

The $544 figure is double the national average of $226 per student.

It's been said many times in this space, but, obviously, it bears repeating.

Illinois is effectively bankrupt, spending far more than it takes in and running up huge debts for public employee pensions and unpaid bills.However one feels about Gov. J.B. Pritzker's progressive tax plan, surely everyone agrees that how the state handles its existing financial resources will have a big impact on the state's fiscal problems.

That includes money for K-12 public education, which is funded by state tax dollars and local property taxes.

Those two revenue generators are hot button political issues. But so, too, is the idea of consolidating local schools.

That's why the council is recommending that local school districts, particularly small districts or single-school districts, work together to share administrative costs.

Illinois has 852 separate school districts, 211 of which have only one school and another 433 with a total enrollment of less than 1,000 students.

Does each of them need its own separate bureaucracy to get the work done?

Absolutely not. But they do, chewing up tax dollars every day of the year that could be better spent in the classroom.

Other states have taken steps to share school administrative costs. The Metropolitan Planning Council has made recommendations on possible steps to take.

Legislators have proposed ideas for cost savings through reorganization.

So why the lack of progress? Is it really too much trouble for local school officials to embrace this problem and search for a solution? Is administrative bloat really preferable to doing what's necessary to redirect those dollars to the classroom?

The apparent answer is yes. But for how long? With Illinois in such sorry financial shape, doing little to nothing shouldn't be an option.

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