Award Date


Degree Type



Educational Leadership

First Committee Member

Robert S. McCord

Second Committee Member

James Hager

Third Committee Member

Pamela S. Salazar

Fourth Committee Member

LeAnn G. Putney

Number of Pages



In contrast with recent decades of economic growth and stability, today's education funding landscape appears to be entrenched in a pattern of diminishing financial resources that may persist for a number of years. This is occurring also amid unprecedented efforts by lawmakers and public officials to intervene in school reform work. School leaders, specifically superintendents of the public school districts, are expected to make difficult leadership decisions in cutting back and downsizing the district organization while still maintaining an innovative and positive environment in schools. The effective leader must be well informed of best practices in positively influencing critical determinants of the district's organization in these critical times.

Researchers have stressed that there is a need to examine dynamic, evolutionary processes within organizations and populations of organizations (Cameron & Whetten, 1981; Kimberly & Quinn, 1984; Tushman and Anderson, 1986). A universally accepted concept from the biological sciences is the idea of organizations taking on a "life" that can be compared to living organisms. Management researchers have developed various models to depict the life cycle of organizations, including phases or stages of birth, growth, decline, renewal (or revival) and death (Dodge, Fullerton, & Robbins, 1994; Greiner, 1972; Hanks, Watson, Jansen, & Chandler, 1993; Miller & Friesen, 1983).

Among the early studies of economic life cycles is the seminal work of Danny Miller and Peter Friesen (1984). They identified primary factors or determinants to an organization's phase in the life cycle: situation, structure, decision-making style, and strategy. Every organization exhibits organizational life cycle characteristics and can be affected by contextual factors and leadership choices from these four determinants. However, while this research was initially prevalent in business and public organization models, a lack of research interest in the public realm has persisted.

Public education leaders, especially superintendents, need to demonstrate significant leadership during times of economic decline. Better information, including a synthesis of the literature from empirical and statistical studies in this area, is needed. Furthermore, a study of superintendents in their "natural setting" through qualitative research and thematic analysis is needed to explain their experiences in leading schools through years of economic austerity. The outcome of this research was the development of a leadership framework that informs public school superintendents who deal with seasons of economic austerity, and a contribution to the research and knowledge base of best practices for managing organizational decline.


Decline management; Downsizing of organizations; Economic austerity; Education – Finance; Educational change; Educational leadership; Educational retrenchment; Organizational life cycle; Qualitative multiple case study; Recessions; School budgets; School superintendents; Superintendent leadership


Educational Leadership | Education Policy

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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