Can you squeeze another administrator out of your budget?

At this time of year, next year’s budget is already weighing heavily on your mind. If you are a charter school in its first few years, you are probably expecting higher enrollment, and therefore will need more teachers as well. But one question is not so easy to answer, and has a big impact: How many administrators is the right number for your school?

At first glance, I am sure that everyone out there is thinking – Well, we could use more than we have!  There is no doubt that the school administrators you have are worked to their maximum capacity already.  I can’t think of a school out there that didn’t wish they had just one more AP, just one more Dean, just one more Curriculum Specialist.  We have to balance that idea with a budget that leads to the financial solvency of the school, and the administrators are most likely the highest paid members of your staff.  They might even be paid as much as two teachers. If we had to choose between an additional administrator or two full-time highly qualified teachers, which would help the school more? How do you factor that into your decision?  

So what is the right number- and how do schools decide?  

Many schools answer this question by looking at their staff to administrator ratio. In California, they have a very complex formula that includes all of your different classifications of employees at different multipliers, but it boils down to a formula of about .08 x staff. So you plug in your number of staff members and multiply it by .08. So if you have 30 teachers, that’s 30 times .08 and the number you get is ….2.4 administrators. Now what does that mean?  Can you have a half an administrator? In a district school maybe you can share a position with another school, but in California each school can pay an excess fee to the district, for budgeting purposes, to round up to the next whole number if they have result like 2.4 administrators. Then they get 3 by sacrificing a little of their budget. As charter schools, we don’t have that luxury of sharing, so it is whole administrators or none at all.

A study from 2014 determined, for better or for worse, the typical ratio of staff to supervisors in schools nationally was about 12:1, Which is about what that .08 multiplyer gets you. That high of a ratio is matched only by hospital nurses, and in most other professions the ratio staff to bosses is more like 4:1, or four staff members reporting to one boss or person in the next authority level in the organization chart.

What those pieces of research do not figure in is the fact that in charter schools, we have to wear so many hats, and if you are a local, “mom and pop” charter school, then your responsibilities as a school administration probably extend way beyond what is required of traditional district level administrators.

Let’s talk about a couple of models that we have seen in public charter schools right here in North Carolina.

My last year at Charter Day school, in Leland, North Carolina, there were 900 kids in K-8 they we had two administrators, one in charge of the middle school and one in charge of the elementary school.  To our benefit, however, we had a corporate office of the Roger Bacon Academy, our EMO, which took care of so many things – curriculum wise and finance wise – that were off our plates as administrators.  But our direct ratio of building admin to staff was about 30-1.

At Wake Forest Charter Academy, where my son attends, they have about 700 students in K-7, and they have about 40 teachers and support staff, with a Principal and 3 full time Deans – so they are at about 10-1 ratio.

At a Charlotte area school where we worked closely last year with, we planned to have about 800 kids and about 60 staff. So with a head of school, a lower school administrator, an upper school administrator, and a dean of academics, that makes 15:1 their staff to admin ratio.

Each of those schools have a very different way of answering our question of how many school administrators you need for your school, and each of those schools has a very different amount of support from outside the school.  Charter Day has an EMO on campus, WFCA has a national EMO based in MIchigan, and the third school has a board and a sister school for support.  So each puzzle is even more unique.

I think that in determining your answer, you have to think about roles of each of you administrators.  

In the book Leverage Leadership, Paul Bambrick Santoyo asserts that the number one level or indicator for the great schools he has seen is that they have a weekly observation and feedback coaching loop with teachers. WEEKLY – hard to believe, right?

He even goes so far as to map it out for you. If each administrator in your school has a maximum load of 15 teachers to observe for 15 minutes and meet with for 30 minutes every week, it can be done in less time than you think. 15 teachers observed for 15 minutes each is 225 minutes.  15 teacher feedback meetings for 30 minutes each is 550 minutes, add those together to make 675 minutes or 11 hours out of your 40 hour work week is about one quarter of your time.  And who are we kidding, if you are a school administrator, you are not working 40 hours in a week…  So 11 hours out of 50 is less than a quarter of your time.  Are you willing to spend 2 hours per day attending to the most important part of your job – watching teachers and delivering feedback?  

If that level of involvement is outside your purvey as the head of school, then I think your organization should have as many administrators as it takes to maintain teacher observation and feedback.  In addition, you distribute the workload of the discipline, the operations management, the fundraisers, the field trip communication, and IEP meetings –  all of those other things we do as administrators – as part of this thinking process.  I finally say, pick however many administrators as you need so that they can hold sacred 45 minutes per week of observation and feedback for each staff member.

When you are answering the question of how many administrators should your school have, I would say that you should one for about every 10-15 staff members, and enough that you can honestly see yourself reserving enough time to give weekly one on one attention to every person on campus – and I’m talking about the front office staff, the custodian, the teacher assistants, and all of the teachers (yes, the elective/specialty teachers too). Because tightening that loop down from whatever it is now (monthly, quarterly, yearly even at some schools) to weekly, is what is separates the greatest schools from just the good ones.  And who in education goes out there and opens a new charter school so that they can be pretty good, when you can be great?

The blog was written by Geoff Gorski, consultant at Leaders Building Leaders. Looking for professional development ideas and strategies for your school’s staff? Contact Geoff at [email protected].

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