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Opinion

Sat., Nov. 6, 2010

Schools’ pay too high at top

Un…be…lievable.

You think you’ve heard everything. You think public education is as weak as it can be. Then, you go to another school board meeting, and it goes wrong in an entirely new way.

I was at the June 9 school board meeting where board directors approved new salary schedules for principals. I missed the part where salary increases for central-office administrators were unanimously approved. The published minutes from that meeting don’t specifically mention raises for central-office administrators.

I found out about them in a Sept. 18 article from The Spokesman-Review.

On Oct. 13, a few hundred teachers, staff members and union representatives went to a board meeting to protest these increases. I can understand their ire. The salaries of most Spokane administrators are more than $100,000 or in the vicinity. This year, 146 administrators will make a combined total of $13,875,860 in base pay, or an average of $95,040. Five years ago, the average base pay for 151 administrators was $80,635.

Several of these people should be fired.

Spokane has a 28.7 percent cohort dropout rate, a dropout problem in middle school, a drop of about 2,500 full-time equivalent students over the last eight years and a 38.9 percent pass rate on the 10th-grade math test (a test on which 56.9 percent was a passing score).

Four high schools had a 100 percent remediation rate in math at Spokane Community College in 2008-’09. Most students who tested into remedial math at SCC or SFCC tested into elementary algebra or below; almost half failed or withdrew early from their remedial classes.

In a 2008 district survey of families that left the district, parents did not tend to complain about teachers; a third said they left because of the curriculum.

Teachers are not why we pulled our daughter out of two math classes; we did that because of the weak curriculum and because teachers lack the freedom to teach. Certain central-office administrators micromanage the teachers, call their professionalism and quality into question, undermine and discredit their concerns, set them up for failure and then blame them.

Caught in the middle are the students who will graduate (or drop out) without the skills they need for postsecondary life.

There are excellent teachers in this district who want to teach my daughter math and grammar. But there is a barrier between us, and that barrier is the administration.

Meanwhile, the constant administrative refrain is that there is no extra money for tutoring, smaller classes, libraries, Pratt Elementary, supplies, extracurricular activities, or custodians. Nancy Stowell, superintendent, said in a board work session that she supports the federal Race to the Top initiative because she’s “desperate” for money. This district has cut teaching and staff positions to save money. Yet somehow, there is money for administrative raises.

I’ve heard the excuses for these raises:

One excuse is that administrators must earn more than principals. Says who? Oh, right – the administrators.

District administrators negotiated the principals’ salaries. Those raises led to administrator raises. Can you say “conflict of interest”?

Another excuse for increased pay is that the central office does more with fewer people. But the district has three more administrators and will spend nearly $700,000 more on administrator salaries than it did two years ago.

Yet another excuse is that this extra taxpayer money will encourage administrators to begin making data-driven decisions. But making data-driven decisions is already their job.

In the Oct. 27 board meeting, Karin Short, associate superintendent of Teaching and Learning, made little sense as she explained how the district “knows” when students have sufficient math skills. Last summer, she received a $6,337 pay increase, bringing her annual base pay to $129,299.

Un…be…lievable.

Laurie H. Rogers is the author of “Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It,” to be published in December. She also has a public education blog called “Betrayed.”


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