Jason Pendleton has spent the past 11 years teaching and coaching both boys and girls soccer at Free State High. But next year, he’ll be starting from scratch at a new high school, Blue Valley Southwest.
Pendleton says the reason for the move is purely about money.
“(Lawrence is) just a tremendous place to live and work,” said Pendleton, who took the Firebirds’ boys team to the state championship game this year. “At the end of the day financially, I just felt like I had a responsibility to my family.”
Pendleton says his Free State salary for teaching is $49,995. He makes an additional $4,995 coaching boys soccer and $4,725 for coaching girls soccer.
Next year in Blue Valley, Pendleton says he will make $54,961 for teaching and another $6,400 for each season coaching boys and girls soccer.
So, he will be making an additional $8,046.
“If I want to be able to ultimately put my kids in college and help pay for it, to have a retirement and those sorts of issues … it was a financial situation that I couldn’t really pass up on,” Pendleton said.
Plus, Pendleton is looking at the long run. The highest amount of money you can make as a teacher in Lawrence schools is just under $60,000. In the Blue Valley district, it’s closer to $74,000.
Superintendent Rick Doll isn’t new to the issue of losing teachers to better pay in Johnson County. His last district in Louisburg is just south of three big districts — Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley.
“When we compare our salaries to the Johnson County schools, you are comparing them to at least the top five and at one time, top three (in the state),” Doll said. “Our salaries are above average from a statewide standpoint, but comparatively speaking, they’re not as good.”
Doll has been looking into the issue and discovered a few reasons why Lawrence might be lagging behind the districts to the east.
Johnson County used to have a special sales tax that went directly to education. While it no longer goes to school districts, it has had a lasting impact.
“That was a big chunk of money that many school districts in Johnson County used to supplement their salary schedule,” Doll said. “Many of us outside of Johnson County honestly thought that was unconstitutional.”
Doll said other factors affect the Lawrence school district’s ability to provide higher teachers’ pay. For example, the school district provides a year of salary to retired teachers split up over five years and a paid health insurance premium for seven years.
Also, Doll said, Lawrence has a neighborhood elementary school system. The average enrollment for an elementary school in Johnson County is about 450, while in Lawrence, it is 350.
“There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what Lawrence has chosen to do, but it is a much less efficient way to organize elementary schools,” Doll said.
Both Pendleton and Doll are worried that the trend of Lawrence teachers leaving for higher salaries will continue.
“It’s a concern. You have to stay competitive,” Doll said. “We don’t have to be top, but we’ve got to be in the ballpark. I think we are in the ballpark.”
Pendleton says lots of young teachers at Free State notice the discrepancy.
“I think the issue that maybe brings it closer to home for teachers to consider in our district is the high cost of living here,” Pendleton said.
While Pendleton will remain living in Lawrence, he wishes he could have also ended his career here.
“I would’ve preferred to retire from this district,” Pendleton said. “I’m leaving not because it’s a better job. It’s just a better paying job.”