By Robert Kittle
The number of students in South Carolina public schools went up by about 10 percent from 1995 to 2011, but the number of teachers and administrators went up by 48 percent.
State education superintendent Dr. Mick Zais says parents should be concerned. "Because that's money that doesn't get to the classroom, has no effect on the learning of their child," he says.
That 48 percent increase does include additional teachers, which can mean smaller class sizes and more one-on-one attention for each student. But Dr. Zais says, "There's a trade-off between more teachers, because as you expand the teaching pool, the average quality level gets lower and lower because it's not as an exclusive a profession and the requirements for entry in the profession are reduced."
He says the growth in districts' bureaucracy is an argument for consolidating school districts.
The state has 46 counties but 80 school districts. "I think we now have seven districts with fewer than 1,000 students, which is not even a decent-sized high school. So they've got all the overhead, all the administration," he says.
The state budget that lawmakers are still working on includes $300,000 to study school districts' spending outside of the classroom, so districts could see how their spending compares to other districts' and find possible savings.
Debbie Elmore, communications director for the South Carolina School Boards Association, questions the department's numbers about the growth in bureaucracy.
She says, "S.C. is among the top five states in the country whose per-student spending has been cut the most over the past five years. Since 90 percent of school districts' funds are made up of personnel, it would be very difficult to increase personnel when they don't have the funds."