Washington's public school system, saddled with budget woes, has the largest administrative staff in the metropolitan area -- a full 80 percent bigger than in Prince George's County, which as 22,000 more students, a new research report shows.
The District staff includes 16 deputy, associate and assistant superintendents with salaries averaging almost $44,000 a year. In Prince George's there are just seven administrators in such high-level jobs, according to the report by Educational Research Service.
Citics of spending in almost all school systems have long charged that budgets are inflated by large cadres of administrators, but the new report provides the data to show how the ratio of staff to students actually comparies in different districts.
District of Columbia officials said this week that they were unfamiliar with the data and could not comment in detail. "I think we probably are higher [than the others]." said assistant District superintendent Mildred Cooper, who is in charge of research. "But I don't think we're that much higher."
Overall, Washington has an administrative staff of 945 with an enrollment last fall of 105,362 students. Prince George's has 526 administrators for 127,222 students.
Prince George's, at the bottom of the areawide list in administrative staff, has just 4.13 administrators for each 1,000 students -- less than half the 8.97 per 1,000 reported in Washington.
All other major school systems in the area fall in between. Alexandria (6.47 administrators per 1,000 students) and Arlington (6.15) have proportionately larger staff of administrators than either Fairfax (5.26) or Montgomery (5.76).
District officials suggested that some of the additional administrative staff may be working on programs such as teacher certification, which are handled elsewhere by state governments. The city also has large special programs for low-income children, which are financed by federal aid.
The research service that compiled the data is a nonprofit organization based in Arlington and sponsored by severn major national school management groups. it drew no conclusions in its report, which contains detailed information for the current year on more than 1,000 school systems across the country.
Fairfax County school officials used the data to calculate the ratios of administrators per 1,000 students in six large school systems as part of a public relations effort to show that Fairfax is in line with other districts and win support for its proposed school budget. A Washington Post reporter verified the calculations and computed similar ratios with data from Alexandria and Arlington.
Besides the highest-ranking jobs the administrative staff counted the report includes principals and assistant principals plus a large group of central office personnel ranging from budget analysts to assistnat to assistant superintendents. Secretaries and clerks are not included.
The District's Cooper said Washington may have reported some job categories that were not included by surrounding jurisdictions. Some 209 jobs, such as research assistants and job classifications specialists.
Fairfax officials said they also included such jobs, but they have fewer of them than the District. A Prince George's spokesman said the country omitted 16 positions listed by the District as administrative, but that it too had fewer employes in such jobs.
"It would be an easier life if we had more help," said Elliott Robertson, Prince George's assistant superintendent for business facilities. "But we do all right. Sometimes there are som e pretty tired old folks and some pretty tired young folks [in] the school administration. But we serve our students."
Robertson said Prince George's has had a relatively small group of school administrators for more than a decade, primarily because it lacks the high-priced homes of other suburbs and the high-value commercial properties of the District, on which to levy taxes. The situation has worsened in the past two years, he said, because of the TRIM charter amendment, which put a lid on property taxes.
"That's one more twist of the screw," Robertson said. "But it's no secret that for many years we haven't had the money. . . We're sometimes envious of the others, but we get by."
Besides the overall differences in administrative staffing, the report also indicates wide difference in the number of people in different school systems holding similar jobs.
While Washington has 16 deputy, associate and assistant superintendents and Prince George's has seven, Fairfax, whose enrollment is about 800 more than Prince George's, has 10 officials at this level. Montgomery, with about 4,000 fewer students than the District, has nine.
The differences are accounted for partly by the number of decentralized administrative areas into which each school system is divided. Washington has six of these regions, Montgomery five, Fairfax four, and Prince George's three.
All of these administrative areas were established in the early 1970s as part of a nationwide push for school decentralization.
Breaking up large school systems into smaller units was supposed to put decision-making closer to the public. But officials concede that it also required an increase in staff: one assistant or associate superintendent for each unit, plus their deputies, coordinators and specialists.
To help bridge a $27 million budget gap projected for next fall, D.C. School Superintendent Vincent Reed has proposed trimming the number of regions from six to four and eliminating 40 regional jobs.
In Montgomery County executive Charles Gilchrist has recommended a similar cutback despite opposition from school officials.
The research report also shows that Washington schools have far more assistant principals than those in neighboring jurisdictions.
Last fall the District had 191 assistant principal jobs, compared with 150 in Fairfax, 119 in Montgomery and 97 in Prince George's.
Unlike the other three jurisdictions, Prince George's has no assistant principals in its elementary schools. Washington has the most, 75, but Reed has suggested cutting back sharply next fall.
Even the Washington school board has a far larger staff for itself than any of its suburban neighbors.
Each of the 11 board members has a full-time secretary, earning from $15,000 to $20,000 a year, and a part-time research assistant. In addition, there are 14 staff members for the board as a whole, including two earning more than $40,000 a year each.
By contrast, Prince George's nine-member school board gets along with two secretaries plus a high school senior who works part time as a typist. The seven member Fairfax school board has a staff of four.
"I think [the staff in D.C.] can be justified," said Patricia Miner, executive secretary to the D.C. school board. "But I don't know if it can be to the public's satisfaction. The same thing is tending to happen in other large urban areas around the nation, I understand."