- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

GARY, Ind. (AP) - When Lake Ridge School Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley asked for a raise this year, it created an uproar — with teachers, parents and even some students protesting.

So how much do superintendents and key administrative staff earn, and how are education, experience and responsibilities measured against salaries?

Johnson-Shirley earns $126,250 a year but asked for a raise of $23,750 to bring her salary to $150,000. She said this would bring her in line with other superintendents. She also believes she has the education and experience for the job, with academic scores also improving under her administration.

Today, some students come to school carrying the stress of poverty and family dysfunction, and school leaders are judged by how well students perform on standardized tests. Almost every district has a growing free and reduced-price lunch population as it wrestles with the most basic needs like keeping students properly fed and clothed.

The Lake Ridge School district previously came under state scrutiny with a possible takeover of Calumet High School by state education leaders. Johnson-Shirley said she made staff adjustments and the district remains intact with staff ratings of effective and highly effective. She implemented a New Tech program at the high school, then expanded it to the middle and elementary schools. Test scores have improved and the graduation rate is 92.1 percent.

“The district has improved tremendously. Calumet New Tech High School and Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School are creating a professional learning environment that is moving students to college- and career-readiness,” she said.

Valparaiso Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia began his job this summer with a base salary of $140,000. Before that, he was superintendent in Portage and Union Township Schools for a decade each, and had been in the Valparaiso Community Schools previously.

“I think they brought me in because I was the most capable candidate,” he told The Times (https://bit.ly/10ngK8q ). “I think my history and commitment to the town and school district was a help, along with my success in previous assignments.”

Frataccia said there is a lot that goes into choosing a superintendent, some of which is education and experience. He said the size of the district matters a little but should not be the primary variable.

“In a smaller district, the superintendent is the first person in line for several different positions,” Frataccia said.

“You may be the superintendent and also the curriculum director and in charge of transportation. It’s a hard job. The successful superintendents I know focus on the purpose of the organization, which is to prepare kids to be successful.”

Because of the education and experience that superintendents and their key administrative staff bring to the job, Frataccia believes the salaries in his district are appropriate.

“Frankly, I worry more about beginning salaries for teachers than I do about the rest of the staff,” Frataccia said. A beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts at $35,000 a year in Valparaiso.

Hammond School Board member George Janiec, connected with the largest school district in the area, said when they review Superintendent Walter Watkins’ salary, or salaries for other key administrators, they look at the wages of other local school leaders. Watkins earns $152,798 per year.

“We take a look at what’s competitive,” Janiec said. “We look at a lot of different factors including the size, complexity and financial health of the district, along with the academics.”

East Chicago School Board President Jesse Gomez said when they were looking for a superintendent, they sought someone with the education and knowledge to turn the district’s finances around. The district has a $6 million deficit.

The board hired veteran educator Youssef “Dr. Joe” Yomtoob, 75, and gave him a five-year contract. Yomtoob often jokes he came cheap at $125,000 a year. Because of his age and other outside benefits, Yomtoob doesn’t take the health insurance, nor does the district pay any money into the Indiana Public Employees Pension Program on his behalf. However, he does get other perks, such as a $5,100 stipend for a car and cellphone, and $21,000 goes into a retirement plan annually.

In addition working as superintendent, Yomtoob is taking over the role as human resource director.

“He has turned around other districts which were having financial problems,” Gomez said. “Those were the strengths that we noted in him. He is working for less than the previous superintendent.”

Gomez said Yomtoob has already saved the district $750,000.

It had been in danger of losing its bus-barn lease with the city, owing the city $1 million. Yomtoob renegotiated with East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland and settled the debt at $250,000 and a much-reduced monthly rate for renting the bus barn.

“In just that one move, he saved us money and more than covered what we will be paying him for the next five years,” Gomez said. “He also has combined some positions to save money.”

The chief financial officer used to make $90,000; that’s been reduced to $80,000. The previous athletic director was at $90,000; that also is now reduced to $80,000.

Gary School Board President Rosie Washington said when Cheryl Pruitt was brought in three years ago, the board needed to reduce the administrative staff, increase the academic scores and deal with a multimillion-dollar deficit. A Gary native, Pruitt has previously worked in the Gary Community School Corp.

Pruitt’s salary will remain at $136,000.

“I don’t see her salary as being out-of-the-box,” Washington said. “At no time has she asked for an increase.”

Washington said Pruitt offered a portion of her wages back this spring to help with getting grass cut at school buildings.

“She stepped up to say she would do that,” Washington said. Ultimately, though, she didn’t have to.

Washington said a few years ago, the Gary school administrative staff was “huge” but has been significantly reduced. She said Pruitt created a flow chart of the departments and analyzed them when she arrived. Washington said Pruitt came back to the board with a way to streamline the departments and still provide accountability.

J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said superintendents are the most highly trained educators in the districts.

Generally speaking, a school district may be the single largest employer in any locale, Coopman said.

“They have the most employees and the largest budget they are managing. They also have the single largest transportation and food service program,” he said. “With that in mind, a superintendent can be equated in industry to the chief executive officer, and that’s how superintendents should be viewed.”

Coopman said they make significant decisions daily.

“They basically are on call 24/7,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for a school superintendent to work a 15-hour day or be called on the weekend or at night about something. Because of the enormity of the job, the pool of candidates for superintendents is becoming shallow.”

Coopman said in urban communities, the pool of superintendent candidates is more shallow because of the complexities of dealing with an urban district. Coopman said school boards across the state are having to look carefully at candidates and the compensation package they want to offer.

As school budgets are stressed with property tax caps, and money that once went to public schools is diverted to charter and private schools, Coopman said communities can expect to see more referendums for public schools funding.

That will further segregate poor districts from the others, some superintendents said.

Barbara O’Block, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Gary, oversees 20 schools in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, most of which accept vouchers for students.

O’Block declined to provide her salary information, saying the Diocese of Gary is not required to make its private records public.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 2008 establishing referendums as a new mechanism of school funding.

School districts can ask for a general fund referendum (the general fund supports salaries, benefits and some programs), or a construction referendum (to renovate or build a new building).

Of referendums since 2008, 51 percent have passed.

Coopman said many districts never recovered after former Gov. Mitch Daniels cut $300 million out of K-through-12 education.

“They haven’t given teachers raises. They can’t take care of the maintenance on their buildings,” he said. Transportation and capital projects budgets are “squeezed,” Coopman added.

“Schools have been handcuffed by how much money they can raise and how it can be used,” he said. “Schools have multimillon-dollar investment in buildings, but it’s difficult to care for those buildings with the property tax caps.”

Coopman said the Gary school district is hamstrung by low property tax collection, a high free and reduced-price lunch population. He said the district is losing assessed value.

“There is absolutely not a level playing field. No two districts are alike. The disparities that occur in these types of situations are very glaring,” Coopman said.

Valparaiso Community Schools will consider a referendum. Frataccia said the district will likely look at both a general fund and a construction referendum.

Frataccia said the general fund referendum is estimated at $32 million over seven years, and a construction referendum at $150 million.

“There is no deficit in the Valparaiso schools right now, but we need the money in the general fund to maintain our staff and reduce class sizes,” he said. “We can better service kids. The classified folks have gone four years without a raise. Our teachers have gone about the same amount of time without a raise, though they have received their index increases.”

With the money for construction, Frataccia said the district would remodel the high school, including upgrades to the HVAC, electric, mechanical, plumbing and technology. It would also build a new swimming pool while remodeling the current pool area to be an advanced manufacturing and robotics area.

It would also rehab its elementary schools. It would redesign Central Elementary School to be a neighborhood school only and build a new elementary school south of U.S. 30 to house about 450 students.

“The kids need this referendum,” Frataccia said. “It’s about what’s best for kids.”


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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