Thursday, May 6, 2010

The High Cost of Our State Education Bureaucracy

A recent article in the Baton Rouge Advocate points out that the Education Bureaucracy at the State Department of Education just keeps on growing despite serious state budget shortfalls. The article (click here to view article) points out that the State Department of Education has approved more than 6000 contracts for outside services over the last 6 years. This fiscal year alone the outside contracts amounted to 342 million dollars with $175 million of that going for test related agreements that span 12 years. Appropriations Chairman, Jim Fannin, said he would like to see reductions in the 20 million dollars of professional services contracts for educational services funded from the state general fund.

In addition, State Superintendent Pastorek has steadily increased the number of very highly paid unclassified positions in the State Department of Education. Since he assumed the position of State Superintendent, it was noted in state records that he has added over 20 unclassified positions, some with salaries up to $140,000 according to news reports. Very recently positions were added in the Department to help pursue the Race to the Top federal program. The state was unsuccessful in the first round of this application for federal dollars yet the bureaucracy continues to grow. All this is happening at a time that local school systems are being urged by the State Superintendent to implement plans to reduce central office costs and shift more funding to the school level.

House bill 1033 which would establish value-added teacher and principal evaluations is moving through the legislative process with no fiscal note attached. (Such a note is usually required to indicate the cost to the state of implementation of legislation) This legislation is based on part of the Race to the Top application that would have set up a new state mandated teacher and administrator evaluation system based on growth in student achievement as measured by state tests. The as yet unfunded application included approximately 30 million dollars over a 4 year period for implementation of this program. Such costs would have included more contracted services, but also the employment of more State Department employees. If the program is funded, possibly in the second round of the R2T competition, the federal government requires that any programs started by the federal funding must be continued by state and local agencies after the federal grant runs out. This means that sooner or later Louisiana will have to pay for this as yet untested scheme.

There have been some cuts in the past year, mostly in the areas providing actual educational services such as the regional service centers. One other notable cut was the cancelation of the contract with JBHM Education Group of Jackson, Miss. For the past couple of years this outside contractor had been employed to monitor and audit low performing schools in the Recovery District at a cost of more than $1 million dollars a year. Its contract was cancelled after it issued an extremely critical report on 4 new charter schools in the Baton Rouge area. This contract was canceled in favor of a new in-house school monitoring process that's being developed.