State school chiefs: Libertarian Kira Willis says too much administrative bloat

Kira Willis: Libertarian candidate

Kira Willis: Libertarian candidate

The AJC asked Kira Willis, state school superintendent candidate, her views on four issues. (Her answers are part of a Sunday/Monday package in the AJC.)

1. How would you manage a mandated 10 percent cut in education spending?
2. How will you restore public confidence in test results?
3. Do you support vouchers for public education?
4. Do you support pay for performance for teachers?

Her responses:

1. Since the inception of No Child Left Behind, administrative positions have grown dramatically in systems across the state, particularly in the larger counties.

These positions, seemingly accountable to no one, have little or no contact with students and usurp funds that should be going directly to the schools. There is too much bloat in county administrative offices.

Let’s eliminate these positions and move to biannual tests for our elementary and middle school students.

We will save ourselves at least 10 percent, money that should go to our students.

2. Eliminating many of the tests that are administered to our children saves money and anxiety for our students and teachers.

The average 11th grader is tested 11 times. The governor vetoed the bill that eliminated first and second grade testing, and the frenzy continues; however our students still rank last in graduation rates.

How is it that most of our children pass all of these tests, but only 50 percent of them graduate from high school? I will deliver real, raw data to the public, not “funny numbers” that make us look like we are doing better than we actually are. It promotes a false sense of security not only for our students but also for our communities and state.

3. In order for our schools to fully meet the needs of our students, we must offer our children choices. I do not support vouchers. What I do support are tax credits for families that wish to home school or send their children to private school.

I also support school choice. Vouchers mean another department within the DOE created to decide who receives a choice and who does not. A simple tax credit eliminates the need for a voucher department. School choice allows a free market in education and creates competition between schools.

4. Competition between teachers is a very different matter. Pay for Performance, or Merit Pay, eliminates collegiality within the teaching profession. Today, teachers share best practices. Pay for performance negates any type of sharing the practices that enrich student learning. I propose that schools simply relieve poor teachers and administrators of their duties.

43 comments Add your comment

Atlanta Mom

June 19th, 2010
10:04 am

Let us be clear here. A tax credit provides choice for NO ONE. Ms. Willis offers up a credit, but it can obviously be only a Georgia tax credit. A family with taxable income in Georgia of $50,000 pays less than $3,000 in Georgia income tax. That will get you into exactly no private school in Georgia. If your family has a taxable income of $100,000 your Ga. income tax is $6,000. A nice subsidy for someone who can come close to paying for private schools. But the folks who need choice the most, are left out in the cold, again.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

classroom guru

June 19th, 2010
10:27 am

Tell you what, Atlanta Mom,
Why don’t you come up with a better solution? Willis supports school choice for public schools and a tax credit for private and home schooling. Any other candidates support this?

Atlanta mom

June 19th, 2010
10:34 am

@classroom guru. Explain to me exactly how choice in public schools works. Everyone gets to go to the public school they want? Let’s assume you have to stay within your district. 1,000 students want to go to a school that physically holds 700. Now what?

Some truth

June 19th, 2010
10:42 am

Finally a candidate not afraid to utter the words administrative bloat. You think Joe Martin, the GAE lackey is going to utter those words? Say it ain’t so, Joe! Show us you aren’t beholden to GAE and utter those words!

Easy answer Atlanta mom

June 19th, 2010
11:30 am

Everyone gets to go to the public school they want?

Oh my God, how horrible. Next thing you know, taxpayers will be demanding to drive on whatever road they want. The nerve of them!

The answer is CHOICE. The money follows the child and the school for 700 expands. If it can’t expand effectively enough to serve the needs of a 1,000 the parent realize it, and make the CHOICE to find a better school for their child.

drew (former teacher)

June 19th, 2010
12:25 pm

Funny…Ms. WIllis seems to be keeping her distance from the Libertarian Party’s true position on education, at least as put forth on their website and previous platforms. I guess the fact that being honest about their party’s position would scare the crap outta most voters forces them to move toward the center. To run for a political office that your own party would like to destroy, seems a little disengenuous. Let’s face it, the Libertarian candidate has NO CHANCE of winning, so they should at least be forthright and honest about their positions. Personally, I’d have a lot more respect for the party if they’d stick to their principals and be honest about their belief that government has no business in education. And as our current inneffective, bloated, wasteful, corrupt, education system unravels before our eyes, the more sense the Libertarian position makes.

From the Libertarian Party website:
Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education

Statements from the Libertarian Party’s 2000 Platform:

Separation of education and State
We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended. We call for the repeal of the guarantees of tax-funded, government-provided education, which are found in most state constitutions.
Source: National Platform of the Libertarian Party Jul 2, 2000

End compulsory busing & compulsory education
We condemn compulsory education laws, which spawn prison-like schools with many of the problems associated with prisons, and we call for an immediate repeal of such laws.
Until government involvement in education is ended, we support elimination, within the governmental school system, of forced busing and corporal punishment. We further support immediate reduction of tax support for schools, and removal of the burden of school taxes from those not responsible for the education of children.

Source: National Platform of the Libertarian Party Jul 2, 2000

AJinCobb

June 19th, 2010
1:46 pm

How Republicans and Libertarians love that term, “administrative bloat”. They seem to think it means “money for nothing”. We can solve all our school funding problems for free, just by slashing some unneeded “bloat”! What a delightful fantasy, and so popular with voters.

Unfortunately, a moment’s investigation of this topic indicates the would-be bloat slashers are in fantasyland. I live in Cobb (one of those big districts), so I looked at the budget information on the CCSD website. According to the easily readable pie chart in this document http://www.cobbk12.org/centraloffice/finance/2011Budget/FY2011TentativeBudgetPopularReport.pdf all of Cobb’s administrative costs sum up to around 7% of the budget. There’s no possibility that Ms. Willis’s blithe claim of “We will save ourselves at least 10 percent” can be true in Cobb.

I believe Cobb is reputed to have low administrative overhead, compared with other large metro districts. There may be some room to cut administrative costs in Cobb, and more in the other districts that may indeed suffer administrative bloat. However, the idea that trimming administrative costs down to size will overcome the K-12 funding problems in this state is laughable.

Hmmm....

June 19th, 2010
1:47 pm

sounded good at the start then lost out with the whole tax credit thing; would have been better to speak of ways to bring in revenue, extra 1% sales tax; sunday beer sales, tax on renters, etc….

aintnosheeple

June 19th, 2010
1:50 pm

I like her position on administrative bloat. I wonder why the other candidates won’t address administrative bloat in local systems?

The Sheeple

June 19th, 2010
2:05 pm

The people complain about the status quo, then sit around and do nothing about the status quo. At the very least, they could hold the AJC accountable for the cupcake questions that don’t ask the candidates to delve into specifics. Then again, looking at how few responses there have been, maybe the readers are holding them accountable by not participating in this charade.

HStchr

June 19th, 2010
2:52 pm

Good answer on administrative positions, but that’s going to be hard to make happen. I also don’t like her ideas on choice. A tax credit isn’t going to do it, and won’t really help improve public schools. That’s an answer that a state superintendent doesn’t need to give when her focus should be totally on how to improve the public schools, not to create potential benefits for leaving it. She also doesn’t say much about pay for performance. She points out what really isn’t an issue. Teachers will share and help each other as often as they can, and I don’t think PFP will impact that to the degree that she seems to believe.

One or the other

June 19th, 2010
2:56 pm

One only has to look at the cheating to see what pay tied to test scores will do.

Atlanta mom

June 19th, 2010
3:30 pm

Sorry to disappoint you folks–but I really want to know how school choice works. Does everyone who wants to go to a particular school get to go? Does one group get preference over others? Are school districts or school zones a thing of the past?
I do know that our high school had 200 unexpected students show up. The result of the economy and NCLB. Our school was already full. Now we were 12% over full. And all the students suffered from overcrowded classrooms.

AJinCobb

June 19th, 2010
3:41 pm

I posted a scornful comment on “administrative bloat” as the solution to all school funding problems, but that comment seems to be stuck in filter-land. So I’ll just say that I looked up the budget section of my school district (Cobb)’s website, and it identifies that the total administrative cost (central office and schools) is about 7% of the budget. I believe Cobb is relatively thrifty on administration, so other districts may well have larger administrative budgets that could stand some trimming. Nevertheless, even if we completely eliminated administration all together (hardly feasible), we couldn’t save the 10% Ms. Willis suggests.

I think all this focus on “administrative bloat” is cynical pandering to the public’s enthusiasm to have something easy to blame, and a fix that won’t cost any more tax dollars.

td

June 19th, 2010
4:27 pm

Are these really the best questions to publish? Were are the answers to the following questions that we have been asking for months on these blogs?

1: What is your position on the Federal Race to the Top initiative?

2: How do you feel about the Math 1, 2, 3, 4 Curriculum?

3: What is you position on the one tract fits all (College track) requirements

That's just great AJinCobb

June 19th, 2010
5:15 pm

Let’s not address the hundreds of millions in educational bloat in this state because it might not solve all of our education funding problems?

What’s next AJinCobb, let’s not support the Red Cross because they can’t possibly save every disaster victim in the world?

That's just great AJinCobb

June 19th, 2010
5:21 pm

“I believe Cobb is relatively thrifty on administration”

What else do you believe AJinCobb; do you believe that BP in relatively proactive when it comes to oil spills?

AJinCobb, I believe Jay Dillion has the I’m not paid to tell the truth, I’m paid to spout a party line spokesman job in Cobb.

But if Crazy Elvis in North Korea ever needs a spokesman, I’m sure you’ll be at the top of the list after that last post.

AJinCobb

June 19th, 2010
5:39 pm

Kira Willis says that cutting the administrative bloat in “larger systems in the state” and moving to biannual tests will save at least 10 percent. I presume Cobb counts as one of the “larger systems in the state”. To be honest, I haven’t researched the cost savings of cutting testing back to every other year. But I’m skeptical that this will save 10%, given that administration is only 7% of Cobb’s budget.

People who disagree with me seem to just be resorting to insults. Do you have any facts? I’d be the first to be delighted if it turned out we could get back the math and science teachers that were RIFed, restore the lower class sizes, etc. just by cutting out the “bloat”.

I thought the pesky numbers didn’t add up.

I also tend to presume that by and large, most people working in public education are trying to do a good job. Of course it’s possible for some bad apples to get into any organization. But this idea that the entire apparatus of public education in this state, from the DOE to the individual school boards to the teachers, is just some kind of evil empire bent on wasting the taxpayers’ money and preventing our kids from getting a decent education … well that kind of thinking just strikes me as deranged. What’s in the water y’all are drinking?

The easy answer

June 19th, 2010
5:49 pm

What’s in the water y’all are drinking?

250,000 wrong to right answers. RICO indictments in DeKalb. A multi-million dollar E-Rate bid rigging scandal. Teachers in at least three of the largest systems in Georgia reporting misuse of the evaluation instrument. Cut scores that aren’t revealed until the AJC compels them to with an Open Records Request.

For starters.

The easy answer

June 19th, 2010
5:59 pm

I’ll grant you one point AJinCobb. Hold her accountable for showing that it would indeed save 10%.

Cere

June 19th, 2010
7:25 pm

I really like this answer –

“Since the inception of No Child Left Behind, administrative positions have grown dramatically in systems across the state, particularly in the larger counties.

These positions, seemingly accountable to no one, have little or no contact with students and usurp funds that should be going directly to the schools. There is too much bloat in county administrative offices.

Let’s eliminate these positions and move to biannual tests for our elementary and middle school students.

We will save ourselves at least 10 percent, money that should go to our students.”

==

Off topic – Can anyone make that tiger stop jumping out from the screen?

MCC

June 19th, 2010
7:29 pm

Easy Answer Atlanta Mom – how do you propose we pay for expanding space at popular schools for school choice?? Good luck w/ that plan – it makes no sense at all considering we HAVE NO MONEY…
Would you like to set up classrooms in the hallways of good schools??

AJinCobb – completely agree w/ you. I searched her website – I don’t think 10% has any basis in reality. Sure, DeKalb & APS could probably save a lot of $$, but what about smaller systems that have already cut so much? Is she suggesting state policies that dictate what some systems can do and others can’t? State policies dictating what local boards can and can’t do doesn’t sound like a libertarian philosophy to me.

Typical political nonsense – pander to the voters with sound bites that actually make no sense at all.

No thanks, Ms. Willis…I’m not impressed by any of the candidates’ answers but I think I’ll take my chances elsewhere.

Ros Dalton

June 19th, 2010
11:25 pm

Ahh Libertarians, so easy to love because they almost never get elected and on the rare occassion that they do they can’t build enough consensus to accomplish anything, thus their theories and promises never get tested. I count myself a Libertarian by default, but it’s painful to discuss Libertarian causes. They’re just vapor.

The strange thing is how much of the GOP noise imitates Libertarian ideas lately, although only in the emptiest ‘nobody expects me to really do this’ kind of way.

[...] says too much administrative bloat.” They asked her 4 questions. On Parental Choice from AJC: [What] I do support are tax credits for families that wish to home school or send their children [...]

Warning

June 20th, 2010
1:30 pm

May have been a total coincidence, but computer identified a trojan immediately upon clicking on the link on the 12:13 post.

classroom guru

June 20th, 2010
3:35 pm

The tweet is legit. Guy is a Libertarian out of Texas.

new blood needed

June 20th, 2010
5:23 pm

@atlanta mom

June 20th, 2010
6:18 pm

not for nothing, but your concern about 200 extra students showing up at an already full-to-capacity school? what do you think increased class sizes are going to look like this year? You should be lucky your children’s teachers even have time to make eye contact with your child!!!

ScienceTeacher671

June 20th, 2010
10:13 pm

She had me interested until I got to #3, although I’d like to see some substantiation on the 10% claim.

Even if your children are grown, as mine are, and even if you have no children or send them to private schools or homeschool them, better schools benefit you in terms of better property values and greater potential for jobs in your area.

td

June 20th, 2010
11:23 pm

I remember growing up and attending HS in the early 80’s and we had 35 to 40 per class in Cobb county. I also remember having lecture classes in College with 100 to 200 people in them. Most of the people I graduated with went on to attain College degrees and now are successful in their careers now. Class size is not a leading indicator of having a successful educational experience.

ScienceTeacher671

June 20th, 2010
11:45 pm

@td, with all due respect, I think it depends on the type of student in the class. If all the students are bright college prep students who want to learn and are concerned about their grades, it will be fine. If you have slow learners who need lots of extra help and/or are discipline problems, not so much.

If you have a mixture of everything from gifted children to special education students who can’t read or are reading on a 1st-2nd grade level in high school, it’s probably not going to work well at all.

Atlanta mom

June 21st, 2010
10:24 am

@td, please keep in mind, when you were in HS, students dropped out at 16 (and were probably only freshman when they did it). Now, if you want to keep your driver’s license, you have to stay in HS until you are 18-thereby providing for another two years of disruptive behavior.

Greg Dixon

June 21st, 2010
10:33 am

So we are supposed to ignore the best candidate because her party is not one of the two big parties? If this country followed that rule we’d still be voting between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Its an election and people should choose the best candidate, regardless of party. The Dems and Reps have shared power since 1860 and we’ve got one of the worst education systems in the industrial world and developing countries like China, India, and Brazil are poised to pass us in math and science education. If you keep the “only vote for the big 2″ mentality, you will get more of the same.

David Staples

June 21st, 2010
11:05 am

I heard a great interview that Kira did with Jason Pye. You can find the interview on Jason’s blog or on Peach Pundit. It’s a bit more in depth than the limited space that a column like this allows.

David Staples

June 21st, 2010
11:06 am

the numbers

June 21st, 2010
11:38 am

One test for one grade level at one school costs about 5k just to administer. 12 grade levels, approximately one test per year (11th graders are tested about 11 times), on average, costs 120 million. Moving to biannual testing will save approximately 60 million, give or take.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 21st, 2010
12:57 pm

@ Atlanta Mom: School choice in my opinion does mean giving families the REAL choice to decide what public institution their child attends. Many argue such a concept would unfairly re-allocate resources across districts. I say that’s precisely the point. If a percentage of the tax resources are devoted to classroom leaning on a per pupil basis then why the reluctance to having this same allocation travel with the student as they move between institutions.

Others would argue, as you have the point of school overcrowding. I would suggest that a scenario like what you described would be clear market indicator to be heeded by any local board that there are lessons learned to be applied to other institutions to bring them up to the same level as the one that parents would appear to be overwhelming choosing. Certainly if you are to open the public school landscape up to intra or even inter district market based competition then the rule of scarcity will come into play which means in some cases perhaps a unbiased lottery for classroom seats (similar to what takes place in some public charter schools). Bottom line laws exist today that could/should allow for this but just enough room has been allowed for local boards to skirt them with cleverly worded local procedures, which seek only to protect the status quo. Local boards across the state must be held accountable fiscally and academically. As it stands, if you want something other than the involuntary choice the district thrusts upon you, a family must pay for the privilege (public or private). It’s time to put an end to the old order of operations.

ScienceTeacher671

June 21st, 2010
2:51 pm

IF the state were fully funding the cost of each chiid’s education as the state constitution seems to indicate that it should, having the funding follow the child from district to district might make sense.

HOWEVER, since funding is largely dependent on property taxes within a district, allowing students the choice to move from district to district could easily result in unfair tax burdens for counties with better school systems and/or counties that choose to spend more on education because they value it more.

Atlanta mom

June 21st, 2010
4:30 pm

@An advocate for public education change & choice
Thank you

td

June 21st, 2010
11:19 pm

ScienceTeacher671, With all due respect to you also, why do we not maximise our limited resources and put all of those highly motivated college prep students in larger classes (50 plus in a lecture type setting)? Then we can spend our resources wisely and take the middle track students (the ones that try but do not have good study habits or the best environment) and lower the class sizes, use different teaching methods and try to save them? Off the subject but I have never understood why we do not establish what is the best learning style for a student and group them together and teach to that learning style? If you have a group of students that are unwilling to learn then they need to go to a special school where we can just babysit them until they decide to leave and go ahead and find out what the real world is all about because we are taking spending way to much of our limited resources on these students and they are disrupting the students that want to learn.

Also, just trying to get an opinion. If you have these students in your classroom how in the world are they going to pass a college prep curriculum? Why are we not offering them a some type of vocational training (Auto repair, construction, electrical repair ect….)?

teaching vet

June 22nd, 2010
2:40 pm

@td
All students are now pretty much required to take the college prep curriculum – the math is especially restrictive since there is no longer a “tech prep” path for math….

ScienceTeacher671

June 22nd, 2010
6:55 pm

@td, good questions, and most of the teachers I know agree with your points (except perhaps class sizes of 40-50 students). I think most teachers would prefer to go back to 2 or 3 tracks, and to do as other countries do and put the unmotivated students out of school and directly into the workforce.

Unfortunately, our politicians seem to be operating under the delusion that every child can and should go to college.