We will get better answers by changing how we ask the question – and then get to better solutions

The term “downtown office cost” is often used as a euphemism for all the personnel in APS serving in administrative functions. However, not all administrative personnel are located at the downtown CLL office and where these personnel actually sit is not really relevant.

However, when the administration is asked about the cost and number of personnel, they respond by generally focusing only on the individuals who have desks at the downtown CLL office. And while their answers are technically correct (sometimes), their focus on personnel sitting in the CLL building in downtown Atlanta often results in confusion regarding how many administrators actually work for APS.

To illustrate this, let’s look at a couple of examples.

If the entire Finance Department were to move from the CLL to another building (maybe even to an underutilized school building), we would not say that the general administrative cost had decreased. However, the administration would be correct in saying the employee costs associated with the “downtown CLL building” had gone down. There is a big difference between the two.

Conversely, take the example of a specialist teacher that has responsibilities in multiple schools and spends most of their time in the field. Let’s say that this teacher was transferred to a desk at the CLL because it was more efficient to be there. While it would be correct to say that the employee cost of the CLL building had gone up, the fact of the matter is that the cost of general and administrative functions had not changed by a dime.

My suggestion is that when you are addressing this issue, use the term “centralized school and general administration costs” and avoid the “downtown office” euphemism. By changing how you ask the question, the issue of where the desk is located is taken out of the equation and places the focus on the number of administrative personnel across the district.

The charts below present the answers that are important to the discussion.

FY15 admin staffing and salaries 042815

The staffing increases have already been the subject of prior posts (see here and here). The chart at the bottom shows the salary for these departments after adjusting FY14 for the Vacancy Management savings that never occurred as there was no mechanism to track it. After making this adjustment you can see that average salaries have essentially stayed the same. However, salaries in total are up by 4.0% due to the staffing additions.

I think it is interesting to note that only one department continues to work to drive costs down and become more efficient. Finance has consistently worked to reduce staffing cost for the last several years and did so again this year. Over the last two years, Finance has reduced staffing by 4.2%.

If the other administrative departments had followed their lead, instead of increasing by 13 in FY15, the personnel would have been reduced by 15 positions from FY13 levels to 330. In other words, if the staffing had simply remained at FY13 levels, the total would have been 345 – with efficiency improvements, the staff should have been brought down to 330.

Given that these incremental administrative staff cost $3.2 million for salaries and benefits, my sense is that a better use could have been easily found for these resources.

As the discussion on average class sizes begins to heat up over the next several weeks, remember the $3.2 million number as the “unacceptably high cost” of reducing class sizes is discussed. The same goes for “there is not another dime in administration costs that can be cut”.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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