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More quality teachers, fewer administrators

Each year when it is time for executive central office school officials to present their proposed school budget to local government officials for approval, a funny thing happens. The needs of children anchor the plea for more funding. From a political perspective, this is a tough plea to deny. Rejecting an increase in educational funding is often met with claims of failing to provide the best education for students. No political figure wants to be associated with denying children educational opportunities. So, the budget proposed is often approved, hook, line and sinker.

This begs the questions, however: Do spending allocations within education budget proposals ensure the best education for students? Are educational opportunities for students maximized with this funding? Absolutely not. While the lip service of "do it for the kids" anchors the plea for funding, this money quickly sinks to the bottom in a sea of bureaucratic waste.

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The best way to maximize educational opportunities and to ensure the best education for students is by employing the most able and talented individuals to work with students in schools. However, high level school officials within national, state and local departments of education, tend to disagree. Their strategy for providing the best education for students is through the scientific management of schools from afar. These tourists of school-based education believe that the analysis of out-of-context data at distant locations is equal to understanding children. Information becomes a substitute for interaction. They have created a system in which knowing data is more important that knowing kids. In this kind of environment, educational data accountants are needed, not teachers. The appearance of data trumps real student learning.

The hope for providing our students the best education does not lie in the hiring of directors, coordinators, supervisors, associates, special assistants, associate superintendents, chiefs, administrative officers, etc. The hope lies with getting the best talent to work with our children. This does not mean we need to "highly qualify" more teachers. The process of qualification adds more layers of bureaucracy as more program mangers, approval specialists, etc. are needed to supervise this department.

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Within the Maryland State Department of Education headquarters and the 24 local school district headquarters in Maryland, there are over 2,300 directors, specialists, supervisors, coordinators, managers, assistant superintendents and chiefs combined. While these are the highest paid positions (most salaries are two- to six-times that of those working with children in schools), there is an extensive bevy of ambiguous-sounding job titles. To my knowledge, there are currently zero students getting their education at any of the central office headquarter locations.

Educational specialist and educational consultant jobs appear to be on the rise. Is this a wise investment for our children? Is it better to seek out and hire the most able and talented educators to work with our children, or is it better to hire staff (often with limited experience) to work with the staff who work with kids? If an educator's skill set is that specialized, perhaps it should be utilized within a school and with students.

The educational priorities of a school system are quite telling when secretaries at central offices have higher salaries than many excellent teachers. This is the case across the board. It is also important to note that the salaries for positions already mentioned are only a fraction of the funds allocated for these positions. Don't forget to calculate the funding for fringe benefits: communication expenses, travel expenses, vehicle expenses, contractual service expenses, supplies, materials and equipment that are strictly for use at headquarters, not schools.

This fleecing of educational funding to support extensive bureaucratic hierarchies in public education does very little to directly impact students. The waste continues to expand, not only at the local and state level, but also within the U.S. Department of Education with its nearly 5,000 employees.

If ensuring the best education and providing optimal educational opportunities for students is the purpose behind the plea for increases in school funding, then invest in getting the best candidates to work with children in schools. That is what children need and deserve. That will provide the most bang for each "buck" of educational funding. Children don't need the hundreds of highly paid managers, supervisors, coordinators, directors, etc. measuring test-defined excellence from afar.

Marc Procaccini is a former high school principal, school administrator and educator. His email is marcproc10@gmail.com.

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