Whenever schools talk about budgets, citizens talk about administrative costs.
"There's kind of a knee-jerk political thing about schools," said Eric McDowell of the McDowell Group in Juneau, which studied Alaska school districts' costs for a 1998 report to the Legislature. "There's always people who say there's too many administrators and they make too much. Whether that's true or not I have no idea because there's no yardstick."
It's hard to judge administrative costs because the organizational structures of Alaska school districts - ranging from the Eastern Aleutians to Anchorage, with varying enrollments and number of schools - "are so vastly different," he said.
The Juneau School District gave principals and several central office administrators a 3 percent bonus this school year and raises in the following two years. Some nonunion administrators also got 3 percent bonuses this year.
But the proposed budget for next school year balances the raises by dropping one administrator, saving $80,000 out of about $4.6 million for central office and school-based administrative costs, which include support staff and supplies. The school board hasn't decided what position to cut.
"I think we have low administrative costs in the district," said Marysia Ochej, director of administrative services. "Sometimes it's difficult for the public to understand what we really do and what it takes to do this job," such as complying with federal and state laws, she said.
It's also hard to compare school districts' administrative costs with those in private companies. How many administrators would a company employ if it had a $37 million operating budget, more than 600 employees and 5,600 other people on site all day, spread over 11 schools?
The Juneau School District has 28 administrators, ranging from the superintendent and assistant superintendent to 15 building principals and assistant principals, to directors of centralized services such as finance, maintenance, personnel and curriculum.
Central office managers, school principals, associated support staff and supplies make up about 12 percent of this fiscal year's budget, similar to the statewide average for city and borough school districts. It's not much higher than the 11 percent in fiscal 1995 for 25 administrators, when there was one less elementary school and no alternative high school, which both have principals.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.