Glass: Administration addresses district goals

Although senior district administration only make up 0.46 percent of the Jeffco Schools budget, the district is often asked why there are so many administrators.

Part of the answer has to do with federal mandates and state reporting requirements that drive the number of administrative positions, explained Superintendent Jason Glass in a recent interview.

The rest of the administration positions fill a need, such as communicating information to families and the community, directing district safety and security plans, or implementing the district’s strategic plan.

For example, most positions in the special education services department are required by state or federal mandates, Glass explained.

Although required, the mandates are also largely “unfunded mandates,” for which little or no money is allocated from the state or federal government to pay for the positions. Glass said that the district is only reimbursed 40 percent of the costs of those positions.

Other senior district administration staff work in the following areas:

  • human resources
  • student services
  • food service
  • security
  • transportation
  • legal services
  • financial services
  • building maintenance
  • information technology (IT)

“Administration works to remove distractions and troubleshoot issues so frontline people can focus on teaching and learning,” Glass said. “Administration can step in, take responsibility, and navigate issues.”

Administrators also have authority to make decisions that principals and teachers may not, he added.

Only $4.6 million — 0.46 percent of the compensation budget — goes to the superintendent, district executive directors and positions like the chief financial officer and chief operations officer, Glass said.

What do administrators do?

Jobs in Jeffco Schools fall into three different categories: administration, licensed staff and support staff. The three categories are defined by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), explained Kathleen Askelson, chief financial officer.

Licensed staff are salaried and include teachers, speech pathologists, counselors, school psychologists, social workers and more. Support staff are paid an hourly rate, and include paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and facilities maintenance staff.

General administration includes senior district administrators who are typically thought of as administrators: the superintendent, achievement directors, principals, assistant principals, and Jeffco’s chief financial officer, chief operations officer, communications director, and director of school security.

However, general administration also includes a number of other employees that one might think of more as support staff. Because these people are salaried but are not part of the licensed category, they fall under “administration.”

For example, the following positions are also included under administration:

  • Food service coordinators
  • Transportation coordinators
  • Bus mechanic supervisors
  • Threat assessment case managers
  • IT staff

Although most people wouldn’t think of the person who helps them solve a problem with a website or computer as an administrator, those are the people who make up some of those numbers.

What would happen if, hypothetically, Jeffco Schools cut all administration?

“Administration really kicks in when there’s a problem,” Glass said. They are there to sort out what happened and work on solutions.

With no administrators, there wouldn’t be people available to handle crisis issues, he said. There wouldn’t be staff to handle late buses or take care of state and federal reporting requirements. There wouldn’t be staff available to oversee Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

In addition, there would not be administrators that families could contact if they felt like their school’s principal was not appropriately addressing an issue, he said.

“If there are no administrators, who are people going to appeal to?” he asked.

Even cutting administration in half would create systemwide struggles, Glass said.

If for example, the IT staff were cut in half, it would have a major impact. Networks might run slower, which means accessing student information would take longer. Students doing online research would find themselves met with slower speeds.

Families trying to access the Jeffco Schools website or to view their student’s progress in a class might also experience errors as the page loads. School computers and other technology devices would take longer to repair.

So what about just cutting their pay in half?

That also would have an impact: more experienced staff would leave for better-paid positions. The ones that remained or were newly hired would be less experienced, and likely not as qualified or as capable.

Even if Jeffco did cut every single central administration position, it would only free up about $14 million dollars, he said. That’s not even enough money for a 3 percent pay raise for all the remaining staff.

Senior district administration only accounts for 0.46 percent of the total Jeffco Schools budget, Glass said. In comparison, administrative costs at most non-profits are considerably higher. For example, administrative costs account for approximately 25 percent of non-profit hospital spending.

Salaries vs. total compensation (salary + benefits)

In addition, people often confuse the numbers in the budget — which reflect total compensation (salary plus benefits like health insurance and PERA) — with salaries.

About 30 percent of the number shown in the district budget information is for benefits, Askelson explained.

Budget numbers need to include the position’s total cost, and are typically based on the average cost for that position, she said. For example, budget numbers for the new administration positions created in the 2018-19 budget show total compensation, not just salary numbers.

Glass also pointed out that salary caps often have unintended consequences.

When New Jersey set caps on superintendent pay, for example, many superintendents left and took jobs outside the state, he said. Approximately 54 percent of New Jersey’s superintendents left in the three years after the cap was enacted, even though turnover had been under 21 percent in the preceding decade.

“You can’t repeal the rule of supply and demand when it comes to markets,” Glass said. “We’re fortunate that our folks are here.”

Why were new administrative positions created?

Eleven central administrators were hired for 2018-19 to address specific needs within the district, Glass said.

“To add capacity to an organization, you need people to do that,” he said. “I brought in the talent I think we needed.”

Driving change through the Jeffco Generations strategic plan

The Chief Strategy Officer position was created to drive change through the implementation of the Jeffco Generations strategy.

Jeffco Schools has been criticized for not having a strategy nor ways to evaluate how well it is working, Glass said. He added that although strategy is part of his job, he also spends a lot of time building relationships between schools, community groups, educators, and families, as well as putting out fires.

The Chief Strategy Officer’s job is to improve quality, and efficiency throughout the district.

The job includes organizing a team of educators for each strategy and tactic in Jeffco Generations, deciding on a set of actions to take, holding team members accountable for carrying out those actions, and collecting and analyzing the data to determine effectiveness.

For example, Jeffco wants to expand early childhood education. The Chief Strategy Officer will be responsible for working with schools to offer more full-day and half-day early education programs and working to get more students enrolled in those programs.

Improving student safety

Other central administration positions were added to improve student safety.

Two threat management specialists were added because Jeffco has seen a growing number of threats and other concerns reported by schools. In 2016-17, Jeffco did 557 building-level threat assessments and 45 district level threat assessments. By 2017-18, those numbers had risen to 767 and 76, respectively.

The number of Jeffco-specific tips reported to Safe2Tell has also grown considerably, increasing from 584 tips in the 2014-15 school year to 1825 in 2017-18.

John McDonald, school safety executive director, continues to bring forward additional needs related to the increase in tips, and these positions address that need.

Developing and maintaining online enrollment system

Two additional positions were created to develop and maintain an online enrollment system, Glass said. Currently, all enrollment is done on paper.

Enrollment is the onramp to Jeffco Schools, Glass noted. Moving to an online system improves access and equity to school choice, he said.

The new enrollment system will allow families to apply to multiple schools online, without needing to turn in forms in person at each school.

Staff will create an enrollment guide that highlights what each school has to offer, developed in collaboration with schools.

In addition, staff hired for these positions will be responsible for answering enrollment questions from families, training school staff about how to support parents through the enrollment process, and for troubleshooting problems.

Increasing work-based learning opportunities

Experiential learning is one focus of the Jeffco Generations strategic plan, but most of Jeffco’s current internship and apprenticeship opportunities have been arranged by local school staff.

Jeffco wants to offer more of these hands-on learning opportunities. The position was created to expand the number of internships and apprenticeships available for students, Glass said.

To do so, the district needs someone to recruit businesses, check on the work environment to make sure it is safe for students, establish a contract, and validate the quality of a student’s work to see if the experience counts for credit.

“You can’t automate that,” he said.

Tracking data to improve student achievement

Another new position this year is dedicated to tracking system-level date and metrics. That includes data about graduation rates, CMAS achievement and growth scores, and more.

“It’s complicated and it doesn’t do it itself,” Glass said. To track performance metrics and progress, you need someone to track it and make that information available.

Educators use that information to build on strengths and address weaknesses with additional resources and interventions.

Jeffco spends less on administrators than neighboring districts

Although the district often hears complaints about how high administrative salaries are, he pointed out that Jeffco pays less than neighboring districts.

“We’re already underpaid for administrative salaries compared to DPS,” he said.

Glass referred to two 2017 Chalkbeat articles that compared the salaries of top administrators in Jeffco Schools and Denver Public Schools.

According to September 2018 data from the Colorado Department of Education, Jeffco also spends less per-pupil dollars on administration than any of the other large neighboring districts.

  • Boulder Valley  – $132 per student
  • Cherry Creek – $89 per student
  • Denver Public Schools – $84 per student
  • Douglas County – $71 per student
  • Jeffco Schools – $61 per student

Due to budget cuts, Jeffco has frequently avoided adding staff while still taking care of work, Askelson said.

In fact, peers in other districts come to Jeffco to find out how to make their administration more streamlined, she said.

“I think we run really smart,” Askelson said. “We just have done without for so many years.”

Glass said he has no intention of adding additional administration positions.

“I think we are now right-sized,” Glass said.

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, musicologist and Jeffco resident since 1999 with two children attending Jeffco Schools. Lisa earned a BA from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Music from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When not working, she can be found running (ideally on mountain trails) with Midnight, her miniature poodle. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Lisa and our other writers.