Rochester schools cut bloated bureaucracy, saving nearly $500,000

Why does public education devour 40 percent of Minnesota’s state budget, and that figure is certain to climb even higher in the 2023 legislative session? American Experiment’s Catrin Wigfall recently singled out one of the biggest, yet least discussed, factors of all: the burgeoning administrative bureaucracy.

The number of district administrators in U.S. public schools has grown 87.6 percent between 2000 and 2019 compared to student growth at 7.6 percent and teacher growth at 8.7 percent.

The data from the Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education was shared by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.

It illustrates the role public education plays in the prevailing administrative system, with the rapid and large growth of administrators resulting in removing “authority and money away from the schools where the students learn” and flowing it “toward the bureaucracy,” continues Dr. Arnn.

One of the state’s biggest school districts provides a peek into how expensive the hidden layers of high-level bureaucrats can be, as well as how effectively eliminating and consolidating positions can reduce the burden on taxpayers. As part of a new strategic plan, Rochester Public Schools recently reduced the top tier of administrators by one-third, according to the Post Bulletin.

The top ranks of officials in the Rochester Public Schools look different than they did a year ago.

The school district is at the tail end of reconfiguring the cabinet. Under the district’s previous administration, the cabinet consisted of nine people. That has now been reduced to six, with a few different faces filling some seats.

How did it happen? The district used a combination of tactics more familiar to those employed in the private sector than the public schools.

[Communications director Heather] Nessler resigned and took a private position outside the district. The district hired a new communications director but no longer has it as a cabinet-level position.

Most recently, [operations director Scott] Sherden retired. His position has been eliminated, and his responsibilities are being folded into [finance director John] Carlson’s portfolio. Carlson also took over the technology aspect that previously was in Nessler’s title.

[Student services support director Karla] Bollesen retired, and Wichmann became the principal at Sunset Terrace Elementary. Their roles were somewhat combined into a new position. The district hired a new person for the role, Dr. Efe Agbamu, whose title is chief of academics.

The results speak for themselves, an estimated savings of nearly $500,000 in this academic year alone.

In 2021, the combined compensation and benefits of the cabinet members amounted to $1,811,939. That has been reduced to $1,340,546 during the 2022-23 school year, representing a decrease of just over 24%.

The cost for the 2023-24 year will be $1,376,521.

“I announced the structure, and people made their decisions,” [Superintendent Ken] Pekel said about the makeup of the new cabinet. “People had options to apply for positions … and we also posted externally.”

It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go in an annual budget that’s ballooned to some $388 million in 2022-23.