Board members discuss if administrative cuts should be on the table; central office has 21 administrators, 64 additional staff
photo by: Lawrence Journal-World
An often-heard refrain of Lawrence school district officials is that there will be cuts and they will be painful, but there is one place in the district’s budget that some say is escaping scrutiny in this year’s round of budget reductions: district administration.
As the Lawrence school board prepares to cut as many as 50 teachers and close up to two schools to free up money for teacher and staff raises, those same employees have asked the board to consider an as-yet untapped area of next year’s budget — the 21 administrators currently working in the district’s central office, who have an average salary over $100,000. While some board members appear prepared to move forward without discussing potential administrative cuts, others say the possibility remains on the table. However, the position of the majority of the board remains unclear.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis recommended a budget package that included three school closures and the elimination of at least 50 teaching positions, but no reductions to administrative positions or salaries. As the Journal-World recently reported, the local teachers union asked the Lawrence school board to consider at least an administrative restructuring, and the local staff union asked the board to consider administrative position cuts and/or a small percentage decrease to the salaries of those making over $100,000 per year. So far, none of those possibilities have gotten any substantive discussion at the board table.
Having received those requests ahead of its meeting on Feb. 27, the board voted to hold public hearings for two school closures, Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementaries, and to proceed with the recommended teacher cuts. There was no call from any board member to consider administrative cuts at that time. The newspaper reached out to all seven board members to see if they had ruled out reductions to the district’s administrative budget, or whether they were still considering the options proposed by the unions. Four school board members responded, but two of those responses consisted of explanations for why those board members would not be answering the question.
Data about administrators and other central office staff
Following the union requests to consider the administrative budget as well as continued questions from several members of the public at the board’s Feb. 27 meeting, the Journal-World requested a list of everyone who works in the district’s central office, including administrators and all other supporting employees, and their salaries for this school year, all of which is public information. The newspaper made the request on Feb. 28 and received the information this past week.
The list consists of 85 employees, including 21 administrators, with a total salary of $5.1 million. That figure does not include all the district’s costs related to those employees, as there are additional expenses for medical, dental, and vision benefits, as well as 403(b) retirement plans, FICA/Medicare, unemployment, and workers compensation, according to district spokesperson Julie Boyle. Some takeaways from the list are below, and the full list is also included for reference.
• The district has 21 administrators, with total salary expenditures totaling $2.3 million, amounting to an average administrative salary of about $109,400.
• The highest administrative salary is that of the superintendent, at $229,295 per year, and the lowest is that of the mental health coordinator, at $71,000 per year.
• There are 13 administrators who make more than $100,000, with total salary expenditures for those 13 employees totaling $1.59 million, amounting to an average salary of $122,730 among those 13 employees.
• The non-administrative employees who work in the district’s central office consist of 51 hourly staff members, eight salaried staff members, and five certified employees, for a total of 64 non-administrative employees.
• Of the 64 non-administrative positions, seven are part-time and the remainder are full-time.
• The total salary expenditures of the 64 non-administrative employees who work in the central office are $2.8 million, amounting to an average pay of $43,816.
As previously noted, the salary numbers do not include the costs of benefits and other employer costs. The newspaper requested that information from the district on March 8, and Boyle said that due to current staffing priorities associated with budget preparations and the upcoming spring break, she estimated the district could provide that information by March 31. However, there are some numbers the district already made public that can provide a rough estimate of the additional costs for the district administrators in particular.
The district previously reported to the Futures Planning Committee — which the board tasked with creating a budget recommendation — that the average total district cost for administrators, excluding the superintendent, was $127,662 per position. Multiplying that average by the 20 administrators left once the superintendent is excluded results in a total of $2.55 million in salary and employer costs. The total of those 20 administrators’ salaries is $2.07 million, meaning additional district costs for those administrators are about $485,000. The district did not report to the Futures Planning Committee what the additional district costs were for the superintendent’s position.
Lewis’ recommendation against cutting the administrative budget went against the budget scenario developed by the Futures Planning Committee — the 39-member committee included district administrators, teachers, staff and parents — as well as input gathered from the public. When the district conducted a public survey about its budget this past fall, 77% of respondents said the committee should consider reducing district and/or building administrative staffing.
Given the requests from the teacher and staff unions and the continued questions from the public about the lack of administrative cuts in his recommendation, the Journal-World asked Lewis to expound on the reasons he previously provided for his recommendation. Boyle responded that Lewis had already commented publicly on the question and provided these two quotes from his Feb. 27 presentation to the board and nothing more:
• “The recommendation illustrates that we are serious about addressing our staff wages. Our people are more important than buildings. It is our people that make the school district what it is. It is our people and those human connections that our students get the amazing opportunity to engage in every single day with teachers. Our most important asset is our people, our high-quality educators, and educators are any adult that comes into contact with our students. We’ve cut, and cut, and cut, and cut people before, but we haven’t seemed to do a good job of cutting facilities.”
• “This board hired me to run an efficient school district, but first and foremost to be fiscally responsible with our resources and our facilities. In addition, the board hired me to provide leadership in developing the most effective program that will benefit our scholars, staff, and families. And after having cut over half a million dollars last year, and we did some restructuring the year before that, I would not recommend additional cuts to administration.”
Ninety positions were cut as part of the district’s budget reduction package last year, including 72 teacher positions, 11.5 classified staff positions and 6.5 district-level administrative positions. The administrative reductions amounted to approximately $577,000 of the $6.41 million in cuts, or roughly 9%.
Should the board, after upcoming public hearings on March 25, decide to close both elementary schools, the district estimates the cuts would save $300,000 to $400,000 per school. Teacher cuts save the district an average of $65,000 per position (that figure includes salary and employer costs), meaning the 50 teacher cuts could save the district another $3.25 million. A recent district news release stated the money saved could be used for a “potential reallocation” toward the district’s goal of achieving competitive wages.
What board members say
Board President Shannon Kimball did not answer whether she had ruled out cuts to administration, saying instead that she thought previous discussion at the board table indicated the board’s position at that time. Her comments instead focused on her concerns about the newspaper asking the board to discuss the issue at all. In an emailed response, Kimball said that the board did not object to Lewis’ recommendation when it was presented Feb. 21 or at the subsequent board meeting on Feb. 27, which she said indicated the board’s position at that time.
“No board member objected on the 21st or asked administration to reconsider,” Kimball wrote. “Also, further cuts were not raised by board members at the February 27th meeting.”
Kimball, who is an attorney, initially said that she was concerned that if the newspaper received responses from four or more board members, constituting a quorum, and published them in the newspaper, that it could be a violation of state law regarding open public meetings. When the newspaper pointed out that the requests for comment were sent separately and therefore would not cause unlawful interactions among four or more board members, Kimball said that while not technically against the rules, it was “a slippery slope” she was uncomfortable with. Kimball copied Boyle and Lewis on the email exchange. Later that same day, School Board Past President Erica Hill echoed Kimball’s concern about the request for comment constituting a violation of state law regarding open meetings and cited it as a reason to decline to comment.
The newspaper routinely asks elected leaders about their thoughts or positions on public issues, and board members Kay Emerson and Kelly Jones did address the questions. The Journal-World did not immediately receive responses from School Board Vice President Paula Vann or the other two board members, Carole Cadue-Blackwood and GR Gordon-Ross.
Emerson said she had not ruled out administrative reductions, and that she thought more information about administrative positions as well as why the district did not recommend administrative cuts needed to be provided to the board and the public.
“It’s really hard to get behind the reasoning for something, for me, if we don’t understand the why behind it,” Emerson said. “So if we say no administration cuts, there’s a good reason for that, but if we don’t explain what that reason is, you leave everyone very confused.”
Emerson herself posted on her school-board-dedicated Facebook page, which is public, that she had requested several pieces of information from the district. That included a visual representation of all the central office staff and their duties, a better explanation for the district’s budget recommendation, and how the district would like to reallocate the savings from cuts (i.e. what percentage for wages, what percentage for district reserves), among other requests.
Emerson said that if the district is not recommending administrative cuts because administration is already struggling to meet its job duties following last year’s cuts, the district should make those struggles clear to the board and the public. She said she’d also like to know whether cuts would mean duties were pushed down the chain to building administrators or teachers. She said without that information, she could not rule out reductions to the administrative budget or say whether any of the reduction options proposed by the unions were viable.
“I think it does need to be discussed in some regards or be known,” Emerson said. “And they have to ask themselves, is this really the best structure for us, for what we actually need to get done? And I think that just because it’s not something that is being talked about right now, doesn’t mean that the administration can’t still come back to the board.”
Jones said via email that she had not taken administrative cuts off the table, especially considering the other cuts she had voted to pursue. Jones, who is one of the board representatives in contract negotiations with the district’s two unions, said she thought the unions’ requests for the board to consider administrative cuts were reasonable after two years of increases in class sizes, possible school closures, and staff and teacher position reductions.
Jones said whether she would support a proposal to reduce the administrative budget would depend on the specifics of the proposal. She said there are administrative units where she agrees with Lewis that there is nothing left to cut, and that cuts to those areas would disrupt basic services.
“Last year’s budget package included significant administrative reductions — among them, several key building-level coordinating positions,” Jones said. “So, Dr. Lewis is weary of deeper administrative cuts. Speaking just to the administrative reductions, I am concerned that last year’s cuts compromise the support from district leadership to building principals, which trickles down to teachers and students.”
However, she said considering the other cuts she has voted to pursue, she had not ruled out other administrative cuts.
“I am considering voting to close a school and just voted to raise class sizes; both are painful, and hopefully something we recover from,” Jones said. “It would be an unbalanced approach to say I’ve taken administrative reductions off the table in the context of my recent votes.”
While Emerson said she thought additional information about administrative staff and duties needed to be out there before the board makes its budget decisions, she also emphasized that district administrators are dedicated district employees like any others. She said the district has an issue recruiting and retaining staff districtwide, including administrators, and that as conversations go forward, she wanted the community to remember those positions also represent people who are struggling to do their jobs with limited resources.
“Regardless of what we’re thinking about, these are individuals who are day-in and day-out supporting our school system, with lack of resources, lack of funding, and lack of time to get stuff done,” Emerson said.
Two public hearings on the potential school closures will take place on Saturday, March 25; one at Broken Arrow from 10 a.m. to noon and another at Pinckney from 2 to 4 p.m. Comments during the hearings may be related to either one of the potential closures. The public hearings are a necessary step should the board ultimately decide to close either of the schools.
The board will continue its discussion of possible school closures, including potential boundary changes, at its meeting March 27. Though school closure and staff reduction decisions need to be made earlier for planning and contract notification purposes, Boyle said the board won’t approve its budget until August or September, following the annual public hearing.
Editor’s note: The Journal-World learned after publication of this story that there are at least two additional administrators employed by the district, bringing the total to 23. Those administrators work out of another district office, and were not included in the list the district provided because the newspaper requested all administrators and staff working at the district’s central office.