King City takeover shows gap between spending and achievement

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell held a news conference on Thursday to announce the appointment of Dr. John Bernard as the state administrator for the King City Joint Union High School District in Monterey County. The state takeover of the district was required by law after the district was granted a state loan to avoid bankruptcy.

Senate Bill 130, authored by Senator Jeff Denham (R-Merced), gives a $13 million emergency loan for the King City district. It provides $5 million directly out of the state general fund and $8 million through lease financing of the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (I-Bank).

“Parents in the district can breathe more easily now, knowing that their kids will have a place to go when school starts in August,” said Sen. Denham.

The bill was passed on an urgency basis and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger on Wednesday. At the same time Public Policy Institute of California released School Accountability and Administrator Incentives in California, a study showing no link between student achievement and administrative salaries.

Consider King City district which receives nearly $22 million per year, more than $10,000 per student, according to the California Department of Education. The Los Angeles Times reports that the district receives even more, $24 million, which works out to $11,200 per student.

Approximately 28 percent of King City Union High freshmen are proficient or advanced in English, while about one-quarter (23 percent) scored basic in Algebra I. Yet the principal earns nearly $117,000, and the district superintendent receives $160,000—$42,000 more than districts similar in size, demographics, and average family income, however, not similar in student performance.

At Williams Unified in Colusa County, for example, 37 percent of freshmen are proficient or advanced in English, and 29 percent scored at basic levels in Algebra I. Its principal earns $111,000, and the district superintendent earns $118,000.

“An accountability system based on growth in student achievement, rather than on a percentage of students reaching a specific target, would provide voters with better information about the effectiveness of the governing board and administrators,” according to the PPIC study.

“It is possible for school boards to hold superintendents directly accountable for their performance—district superintendents do not receive tenure in their positions, and they are not paid according to a standardized salary schedule,” the study says. However, “less flexibility is available for holding principals accountable for their performance.”

Only by putting parents back in charge of schools, with choice and information, will the decisions-makers be held to a higher standard. Efficiency and student learning would both increase if parents statewide were not limited to one school in their neighborhood. Until then administrative and achievement problems will remain, despite any level of funding.

Evelyn B. Stacey, is an research associate for education policy studies at Pacific Research Institute, in Sacramento.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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