An Easy Way to Control Soaring School Costs: Bring ‘Billable Hours’ to the Teaching Profession

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The cost of education has increased dramatically over the decades. New school construction and building additions — the bricks and mortar costs — have increased significantly creating exceptional bonded indebtedness. At the same time, dramatic cost increases in salary and benefits for teachers, administrators, and support staff — the human resource costs of education — have spiraled upward.

As a result, education budgets in towns and cities across Connecticut are consuming higher and higher percentages of property tax collections year after year. And, in a growing number of towns and cities, more of the direct and indirect costs of education are assigned to the general budget. Wherever we find the practice of burying some education costs in the general fund, the real aggregate costs of education are being shrouded from the eyes of most taxpayers.


Fortunately, a simple accounting method used by many professionals outside the field of education offers a way out of the crisis.

Almost everyone has heard of the phrase “billable hours.” But, not everyone outside of the legal and accounting professions may know exactly what it means. In simplest terms, “billable hours” are those hours a professional spends at work in service of a specific assignment.

Teachers do not normally track their time in the way that lawyers and accountants do, but they certainly could.

Why is it desirable for teachers to account for their time in such a manner? Because using “billable hours” gives all education stakeholders the ability to begin to make rational choices about the optimal allocation of a school’s most precious education delivery resource — teacher time. By translating a teacher’s labor into an objective measurement, parents, school boards, and principals can begin to make cost-effective decisions about who should be hired, what should be taught, and when.

How would “billable hours” work in education? For every teacher, we make two simple calculations:

The first is the “teacher instruction cost.” You get this figure by multiplying a teacher’s scheduled daily teaching hours times 180 school days and the dividing the result into the teacher’s annual salary. For example, a teacher with a load of 4.75 class hours per day and a salary of $64,400 would have a teacher instruction cost of $75.32. Put more simply, an hour of his (or her) teaching time costs the taxpayers $75.32.

The second calculation is the “student instruction cost.” This is simply the teacher instruction cost — the hourly amount we’ve just calculated — divided by the number of students in a specific classroom. Carrying through on our example, we would say that the student instruction cost for a teacher making $75.32 an hour running a Social Studies class of 25 students is $3.01. With this figure we can say exactly what is costs to educate each student in a particular class.

With these two simple calculations it is now possible to establish the actual cost of delivering an education to any classroom. More importantly, it is possible to make objective comparisons of education delivery costs within a single school or across a district. Parents, school boards, taxpayers, principals and other stakeholders can even compare Elementary, Middle or High Schools classroom costs across districts with complete objectivity.

The potential benefits of these calculations are enormous. Using the both the “teacher instruction cost” and “student instruction cost” it is possible to insure that instructional costs are not skewed by the size of a school system’s census — a factor that has historically confused comparisons between small and large districts. These measures can also uncover and pinpoint the actual costs of different modes of instruction, of school organization and of daily school scheduling, all-the-while insulating cost-effective judgments from attempts to obscure them with pedagogical rhetoric.

The use of “billable hours” will enable those who wish to get the most from their town’s tax dollars to review public school costs with a “laser-like” focus, producing the kind of quality education parents and school boards statewide would like to see. This concept, easily adapted from the accounting and legal professions, can provide all education stakeholders with a powerful a tool to effectively manage education delivery costs.

”’Dr. Theodore Martland is a former Superintendent of Schools in Connecticut. Mr. Richard Olivastro is president of People Dynamics, a Connecticut based Leadership Development Company and a member of the Board of Directors of the Yankee Institute. They can be reached at Education Dynamics, 860-678-7526.”’