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School fund focus hits leadership

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Fourteen Oklahoma counties averaged fewer than 400 students per school superintendent in the 2001-2002 school year, according to a published report.

Roger Mills County, which borders the Texas Panhandle north of Interstate 40, had the state's lowest average with 173 students per superintendent, The Sunday Oklahoman reported in a copyright story.

Five Oklahoma counties averaged fewer than 300 students per superintendent, according to The Oklahomans' analysis.

The cost of school administration is expected to be the focus of debate as lawmakers find solutions to the financial crisis in Oklahoma's public education system.

``I think it's gotta be something we look at seriously,'' said state Rep. Larry Ferguson, R-Cleveland. ``I think we need to put a cap on administrative costs, but if there is a law, we've gotta be able to maintain some flexibility.''

The superintendent of Clinton's schools, Perry Adams, said administrative costs alone is not the answer to education's financial woes.

Adams said consolidating state schools to a single superintendent for each of the state's 77 counties will still require someone at the schools to handle administrative duties.

``And you better be careful or you might end up with more administrators,'' he said.

A similar situation developed 20 years ago with the statewide creation of county superintendents. The positions did not eliminate district superintendents and were abolished with the passage of House Bill 1017, the education reform and tax law of 1990.

Adams said student-to-superintendent ratios do not tell the whole story in most of the state's rural areas.

``If you take a look at one of these superintendents at one of these smaller districts, the chances are that's not all he does,'' Adams said. ``Chances are he is the superintendent and a principal, he drives the bus, and also sweeps the floor.''

Rep. Debbie Blackburn, D-Oklahoma City, said she is not swayed by that argument.

``If that's the case, then that person is not doing the full duties of a superintendent,'' said Blackburn, chairwoman of the House Appropriation's Committee on Education.

Blackburn thinks the answer for reducing a ``top-heavy'' administration rests less with consolidation and more with regulated salaries.

Education groups have expressed concern about blanket administrative cuts. Larger, more spread-out districts could have new problems that could be costly.

School consolidation is one of many ``scenarios that needs to be explored'' to solve the school funding crisis, said Carolyn Crowder, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

``We don't want to duplicate services when we could be getting money in the classroom,'' Crowder said.

But targeting administrative costs might be too simplistic, she said.

``What we've found so far is that with some adjustments made in our administrative structure, it will only go so far.''

Crowder said the association will publish a report later this month with recommendations on how to solve the education funding crisis.

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