Payroll listings for 22 school districts, representing nearly 49% of total statewide public school enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year, are now available on KansasOpenGov.org. The data was collected through Open Records requests and includes all compensation but not benefits. Each year’s updates can bring a host of changes from previous years, but the recurring themes that surface from year to year are perhaps most telling as we look to suggest ways in which schools can make better use of available resources in providing a quality, student-focused education to all Kansas kids.
1). Record-setting administrative payouts continue to divert resources from Kansas classrooms and saddle Kansas taxpayers with mounting long-term pension costs.
The adjacent table highlights the payouts three school administrators received upon leaving their respective positions. These payouts are common practice across districts and can represent—among other things—prearranged deferred compensation agreements, banked sick leave that goes unused over the course of an individual’s career, or buyouts of remaining balances on employment contracts. Offering these payouts is within each district’s prerogative, but the practice of doing so is problematic in two primary respects.
Firstly, funds used to this end are funds that could otherwise be used in Kansas classrooms and/or in other ways that are actually student-focused and targeted toward improving educational outcomes.
Secondly, large one-time spikes in pay can inflate the average salary figures used in calculating the state-sponsored pensions to which individuals receiving payouts may also be entitled. In this sense, payouts become not just a one-time expense to school districts but also a longer-term, continued and compounded expense to all Kansas taxpayers. See an earlier post here for more information on this concept of “pension spiking.”
2). School districts continue to employ many non-Instruction workers at above-market wages and benefits, diverting resources from students and leaving state taxpayers with added pension obligations in the process.
Another prominent commonality across school districts is that they are employing individuals to perform services that could be contracted out at potentially much lower prices in the private sector. The table below provides a sampling of positions and services that could be evaluated in this vein.
Contracting these services out at lower prices would provide immediate costs savings that could be re-directed to classroom instruction and would also reduce pension liabilities.
3). Teachers of non-core subjects are some of the highest-paid across the districts we sampled.
As the adjacent table illustrates, many of the highest paid teachers in our collection of payrolls teach non-core subjects like art, drama, physical education, and music. These subjects are certainly valuable in their own right, but the illustration is indicative of the fact that teachers are paid based on seniority rather than on effectiveness and relative importance of subjects taught.
Taken together, the three overarching observations on school payrolls discussed above underscore the fact that school districts are not operating efficiently and do not always spend money in a student-focused manner.