School district administration grew as numbers fell; now, will it share in cuts?

As Modesto City Schools scrambles to slice $25 million from next year's budget, district staffing levels are being scrutinized.

Student enrollment has dropped 11 percent during the last seven years, while management ranks have increased, district records show.

There were 180 students per administrator in 2002 when the district's enrollment peaked, but this school year that ratio dropped to 158 students per administrator.

Since enrollment started falling, managers have been added at the district office, while the number assigned to individual schools has declined.

District officials defend their staffing ratios, noting how they've reduced management the last couple of years and intend to cut more. They also contend there's more government-mandated work required these days, meaning managers have more to do.

Nonmanagement employees don't buy those explanations, however, and they think the district staff has become top- heavy. Teacher numbers, in fact, are lower now than they were a decade ago. Since enrollment peaked in 2002, the number of students per teacher has remained about 17.5-to-1.

"We've got a staffing ratio (specified in our contract), so the number of teachers automatically declines with the number of students," explained Barney Hale, leader of the Modesto Teachers Association. There are about 188 fewer teachers than there were in 2002.

But there is no mandated student-to-administrator ratio, so Hale said the district has expanded management "a little here, and a little there."

At the 2002 enrollment peak, for instance, the district office had 73 managers. By last fall, there were 87, despite the fact enrollment had declined by more than 3,500 students.

Administrators assigned to specific schools, by contrast, declined during those years, from 106 to 94.

Those statistics do not tell the whole story, according to the district's administrators. They contend some of the managers listed under the district office work at the school sites. And they say there were additional employees in 2002 who were doing management work, but they were not given management titles until a few years ago.

"It's misleading because we didn't hire new management bodies," said Dennis Snelling, the district's director of business services. He said there were shifts of some employees into management, but their duties essentially remained the same. Those promotions came with raises.

Stan Trevena, president of the bargaining unit that represents the district's managers, also defended administrative staffing levels. A written statement from Trevena's group noted how management duties have expanded since 2002.

He said the district has opened two new high schools, and implemented the governor's after-school program and other intervention programs. Trevena also said administrators have to deal with increased assessment demands, increased state and federal reporting demands, and increased responsibility for No Child Left Behind and other accountability measures.

Aaron Castro doesn't accept that explanation for expanding management. He is president of the district's classified staff members, which includes secretaries, teacher aides, bus drivers, custodians and maintenance workers. Those employee ranks have declined about 6 percent since peaking in 2002.

"Our classified people do all the work when the managers are sitting in their meetings making decisions," Castro said.

He called management "ridiculously top-heavy," and he criticized the district for laying off his union members while boosting management compensation through $500-per-month mileage stipends.

Castro fears more of his colleagues soon will lose their jobs. He said his union will be told Monday how many layoff notices to expect.

The district already has warned 517 teachers, counselors and librarians, plus 67 managers, that they may lose their jobs come July.

Most of those layoffs could be avoided if unions agree to pay cuts. The district has proposed 16 percent salary reductions for its nonmanagement personnel. Traditionally, managers receive the same raises -- or reductions -- the unions accept.

Snelling said the district's management staff also will be reorganized this summer and five positions are going away: one certificated manager at a school site; three certificated managers at the central office; and one classified manager, also at the central office.

Hale, from the teachers union, is skeptical. "They're going to create four new administrators at Gregori High," Hale said about the new school near Salida that opens in August. "But they're not going to lose any administrators at the other high schools, even though those schools will be losing up to 700 students."

Hale also objected to management's claims that spending on administrators will be reduced next year.

One district plan counts savings from losing eight elementary school vice principals. But those administrators aren't losing their jobs, they're just being paid through a different account.

"They're counting that as a cut, but no administrator will lose their job," Hale said.

Instead, he said, those whose jobs are in jeopardy are the nonmanagement employees who are paid with those funds -- such as aides who help small groups of students learn English.

Modesto City Schools board member Cindy Marks said the board is looking at numerous budget cuts.

"As we wrestle with declining enrollment, improving student achievement and reduced state funding, we will be considering every option available including reductions to the district's administrative staff," Marks wrote in an e-mail to The Bee.

"That's why we decided to hand out pink slips to 70 percent of the managers. I am confident that the board will do everything it can to ensure that the district is managed as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible," Marks wrote.

Managers, meanwhile, want the budget-cutting process to be more civil.

"These are difficult times, and we shouldn't be pitting ourselves against one another. We should remember what we're here for: the students," Trevena said in his statement.

"We will not solve this crisis on the backs of any one employee group, just as we won't solve it by excluding other groups from equitable cuts," he said. "We all have to sacrifice to save our schools."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.