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How Many Administrators Does It Take to Educate a Child?

It’s hard not to be frustrated—both as a teacher and reader of the newspaper—when I read yet another story justifying cutting the number of teachers in my school district while retaining the same number of administrators. Today’s story in the Independent Record continues that trend, presenting a case for reduced instructional staff that relies on terrible manipulation of data.

Though the article says, “some wonder why there are no proposed cuts in administration,” there is no discussion of the possibility of reducing or consolidating any administrative tasks in the district. I simply can’t understand that. The district has seen a nearly 20% increase in its number of administrators over the past eight years, with a 1% increase in the number of educators. I put together a chart that illustrates the growth of administration over this period of time:


It compares the number of administrators per teacher (red line) with the number of educators per student (blue line). While the number of teachers per student has remained relatively static, over the past eight years the number of administrative positions needed to supervise and manage those teachers has grown steadily. Based on projections (without any additional cuts) there will be more administrators per teacher than teachers per student in the Helena School District-an astonishing allocation of resources.

Given the eight year growth in the number of administrators, it’s hard to understand why no cutbacks are even being discussed there:

Messinger said he’d be willing to look at the administrative level for ways to trim expenses, but he has said from the beginning his goal is to make budget adjustments without layoffs.

“We’ve worked hard, not just with teachers, but all employee groups to work on our contracts and make us attractive to employees,” he said. “To do layoffs we would be releasing the very people we’ve worked so hard to retain, and we are pleased with their performance.”

The article becomes more problematic when it asserts that the Helena School District has the lowest percentage of administrators among ‘large’ Montana school districts. Unless the numbers are badly mixed up in the piece, the article’s claim that Helena has a low percentage of administrators is absolutely wrong:

Helena actually retains the lowest percentage of administrators to teachers at 14.74 percent of overall personnel compared to Montana’s other large school districts.

It’s been awhile since I took a math course, but that sentence seems to contain both a ratio (teacher:admin) and a percentage, neither of which is supported by the numbers in the article.  The reporter of the story made a fundamental error in her calculations, asserting that the ratio of administrators to teachers resulted in a percentage. In reality, her numbers are backwards. The lower numbers indicate districts with the highest percentage of administrators.

Correctly interpreting the data from the story reveals that Helena has more administrators per teacher than any other.

District Admin % Teacher % Total Ratio
Helena 38 6.4% 560 93.6% 598 14.74
Butte 20 6.0% 314 94.0% 334 15.70
Billings 64 5.3% 1153 94.7% 1217 18.02
Great Falls 40 4.8% 793 95.2% 833 19.83
Missoula 33.5 4.7% 678 95.3% 711.5 20.24


It’s a huge mistake, and one that distorts the truth quite badly. In the Helena School District, there is one administrator for every 14.74 teachers. In Missoula, each administrator oversees over twenty teachers. A mistake like this should never have made it past a copy editor and will result in a community badly misinformed about its schools.

To extrapolate from this data that the Helena School District has “the lowest percentage of administrators to teachers” is, frankly, absurd—and more evidence of the need to seriously look at administrative cutbacks.

No one could argue that schools districts will need to make cuts over the next two years, given the level of support provided by the Montana Legislature. Personally, I would be entirely comfortable with a freeze in salaries—if it meant that more teachers could keep their jobs. When a district (and apparently a union) is perfectly comfortable keeping an historically high level of administrative staff during times of cutbacks, parents and taxpayers should start asking hard questions about what priorities are really driving school districts.

[For what it’s worth, I was contacted to comment on the story. Unfortunately, 11:00 a.m on a school day is not the ideal time to reach a working teacher. My efforts to make contact again did not generate a callback]

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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