$544 per student. That’s how much Illinois school districts spend on administrative costs every year. And that number keeps rising year after year.
The national average? $266 per student.
That means that Illinois spends more than double what other states pay for administration. In fact, Illinois spends more than any other state in the country on administration annually.
According to research done by the Metropolitan Planning Council, New York (19.7 million people) spends $349 per student, Texas (27.9 million people) spends $129 per student, California (39.2 million people) spends $95 per student, and Florida (20.6 million people) spends $78 per student.
If Illinois school districts could just reduce their general administration spending to the national average, Illinois taxpayers would save about $645 million dollars per year. And since funding for education in Illinois is predominantly supported by local property taxes, those savings would likely mean smaller property tax bills for everyone. Or, that money could be spent to hire thousands of new teachers.
It’s no secret that some Illinois school districts are incredibly top-heavy with administrators drawing big salaries. In fact, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education, salary and benefits for Illinois school administrators in many cases exceeds $200,000 per year.
Due to the way some Illinois school districts are structured, where separate elementary districts and a high school district all serve the same region, taxpayers in some areas of the state are actually funding the salaries of several sets of school administrators, instead of just one. This is commonly known as a dual district system, and for taxpayers, it is expensive.
In dual districts, the feeder elementary districts each have a superintendent and a set of school administrators while the corresponding high school district has its own superintendent and another set of administrators. Fifty-five percent of school districts in Illinois are considered dual districts, which is just one reason our state’s property tax rates are so high.
And despite the new school-funding formula putting record funding into our children’s schools, property owners are still not receiving any sort of relief.
When looking at what other states are doing to reduce costs, research shows that sharing services is a good way to save.
New York, which spends nearly $200 per student less than Illinois, utilizes administrative service sharing and encourages school districts to share services through differential state aid.
And in Ohio, school districts have reported between $45,000 and $66,000 in annual savings just by sharing a treasurer.
Unfortunately, this issue is not only about saving taxpayers money, there are other arguably more important things at stake such as improving student outcomes. Statistics show that students have better academic outcomes when there is a continuum of curriculum from Kindergarten to 12th grade. That’s because the same administration is planning the curriculum throughout the students’ entire educational career.
For dual districts, issues may arise regarding coordination of curriculum and learning across separate districts with different governing bodies and administrative staff. In fact, through no fault of the student, there may actually be gaps in learning when a student moves from the feeder elementary district to the designated high school district within the same region.
That’s why I have sponsored legislation that would give Illinois’ voters the opportunity to decide whether their school district should share its superintendent or other administrators with another school district.
Senate Bill 1287, which has passed the Senate but is stalled in the House Rules Committee and unlikely to move, would give residents in each school district the ability to pass a petition allowing for a referendum to go before voters asking if their school district must share administrative services with another school district. If voters in both school districts vote in favor, the two school districts would then share services. Currently, this option is only available by school board resolution.
Furthermore, 50 percent of the money saved would be required to go directly into the classroom and the other 50 percent would go back to the property taxpayers.
To be clear, this isn’t a school consolidation bill, it simply gives taxpayers the option to share school administrators if they feel it fits the needs of their school district. Because ultimately, the school district should answer to the taxpayers who fund it.
Sharing administrative services is proven to lessen expenses and provide better outcomes for students. So if legislators are serious about making our children a priority and reducing the property tax burden on homeowners, the House of Representatives should consider this legislation.