While private-sector and state workers have taken hits during the economic downturn, many public school administrators have seen their pay remain steady or increase.
Spokane Public Schools officials – from principals to top administrators – received pay increases of 3 percent or more this summer. The superintendent’s total compensation was the exception, rising less than 2 percent. In the Mead and Central Valley districts, certain administrators received annual step increases, but nothing more.
For all three districts, the pay boosts ranged from $3,000 to about $7,000 a year. Meanwhile, median income in Spokane County dropped in 2009 for the first time in five years, by more than $3,000 – from $45,551 to $42,195 – according to the Washington Office of Financial Management.
While the state pays an average of $59,929 toward administrative salaries, the rest comes from local levy dollars. In the Spokane-area districts, at least 107 administrators make more than $100,000 annually. The average salary for Washington administrators is $106,547.
“I know our members are disappointed in the 3 percent raise,” said Jenni Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association teachers union. “We have some union members who are below poverty level, yet our administrators who are making over $100,000 are getting raises. I am not happy. The people that are working in the trenches and with the kids every day should be getting the raises. They are doing what I consider the hard work.”
Washington teachers receive a 3 percent pay increase in each of the first 16 years they are employed. But in the past three years, those pay bumps have been countered with pricier health care premiums and three fewer paid days. For teachers with more than 16 years, that has meant a pay cut in each of the past three years.
“Overall, school districts need to prioritize in their school budgets, and that should be what happens in the classroom, not what happens in the central office,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association. “We’re 45th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending. We have fewer teachers and support staff, and our class size is larger than most states’.”
For teachers, counselors and librarians who haven’t had step increases, base salaries have been frozen for two years, he added.
The pay increase for Spokane Public Schools administrators stemmed from a bargaining agreement with the district’s principals union in which an additional reward for years of service was negotiated, district officials said. The principals union negotiates every three years.
Contract language also dictates that principal salaries need to be in a midrange of comparable districts in the state.
Because of a district philosophy that supervisors should be paid more than those they oversee, the pay bumps rippled up from principals to the district’s top leadership.
“Every organization has an annual budget to manage,” said Staci Vesneske, assistant superintendent. “When you are able to provide a balanced budget that also preserves step increases and which pays people fairly for their responsibilities and accountability, you’re going to do that. In years where it’s not possible to balance the budget and preserve step increases, then you won’t.”
Rose, the union president, said, “Our members would die for a 2 or 2.5 percent raise. But we were told in bargaining that there was no money” for pay increases other than what the state mandates.
In the Central Valley School District, six administrators received pay increases due to years of service. In the Mead School District, eight administrator salaries rose for the same reason. There were no across-the-board raises. The superintendents in those districts saw no salary changes. In Spokane Public Schools, 104 administrators, including principals, received pay increases.
Although Superintendent Nancy Stowell’s base salary did not go up, her contract was restructured to reflect total compensation, including retirement and other incentives, resulting in a 1.8 percent increase, to $222,576.48 annually, officials said.
Members of no other school district union received overall pay increases. But, Vesneske wrote in an e-mail: “We have not had to ask for union concessions like other organizations have.” She pointed to spending on behalf of Spokane Education Association members in particular: “In fact, last November 2009 we spent $1 million on union interests/wants as part of our bargaining re-opener, so we believe we have treated union members fairly as well. Some of that went to salary schedule changes. The rest was in the form of additional compensation for additional work beyond the 7-hour school day.”
The higher insurance premiums and three fewer work days resulted from state budget cuts, officials said.
Bob Douthitt, Spokane school board vice president, said the board carefully considered the pay increases for administrators, including how their salaries compare to those in other districts.
He acknowledged that, given the current economy, “the timing, it was something that was on my mind. To keep an organization running, you have to have a reasonable spacing between levels in pay. It would have been unmanageable to change later or (give increases) on a case-by-case basis.”
The Spokane pay increases are in line with those in other districts, according to recent studies.
Nationally, top education administrators aren’t getting the big pay increases they received in previous years, but their salaries continue to go up, according to the 37th annual Educational Research Service survey. Assistant superintendents’ pay increased an average 3.1 percent, the largest gain among education leaders in K-12. Other pay raises ranged from 1.6 percent to 2.6 percent.
Liv Finne, the Washington Policy Center’s director of education, said she’s disturbed by rising pay among public-education administrators, noting Seattle administrators have received a 5 percent pay increase over the past two years.
“There’s been no rolling back,” Finne said. “They haven’t had to because they’ve been bailed out by the feds. What’s interesting is what’s coming next. They know the federal money will dry up. It just shows you the arrogance of our public school officials. They are living in a bubble, and no one is holding them accountable.”