We All Want Well-Paid Teachers but We Don't Need to Be Overtaxed
Kirkwood residents have always supported their schools, and hopefully will always be able to. This support begins with rewarding good staff and teachers.
The current and previous School Boards, however, have put the district on a course that is financially unsustainable, is unfair to taxpayers and does not ensure better educational outcomes. Go to this Elliot Davis, Fox 2 News, "You Paid For It" story for an introduction.
District officials continually say that more money is needed to keep Kirkwood salaries "competitive." Kirkwood teacher salaries average above $70,000, second-highest in the state behind only Clayton's. Many administrators make more than $100,000, led by Superintendent Thomas Williams' salary, third-highest in the state. The top-paid superintendent is Lee's Summit's. He runs a district with more than three times the enrollment of Kirkwood's. In fact, Kirkwood ranks 32nd in total K-12 enrollment, and there are 15 districts whose enrollment is more than twice that of Kirkwood. Information below is from the 2015 PK-12 District Enrollment Report available on Missouri DESE website but available at this link in MS Excel.
Make no mistake, Kirkwood's salaries will remain "competitive" if this tax-rate hike is defeated. The normal, historical trends of increasing real estate values can adequately fund district operations without a tax increase.
Unsustainable Salary Growth
The board's philosophy appears to be that spending a lot of money is inherently good and that Kirkwood schools will be perceived as elite simply by spending more taxpayer money.
That philosophy became obvious in 2009 with the hiring of Dr. Williams as superintendent at $240,000 a year. That contract drew statewide attention because the salary was so out of proportion to the district's size. Dr. Williams is paid more than the superintendents in the Rockwood and Parkway districts; Rockwood has nearly four times and Parkway has more than three times the number of students Kirkwood has.
Last spring, Dr. Williams' base pay was frozen at $264,000 a year. This was an empty gesture, done in anticipation of the tax-increase election Nov. 3. It's an acknowledgement that the board has a perception problem with that salary. The savings is negligible -- about $6,600. But the board wiped out even that savings by agreeing to pay Dr. Williams' health insurance premiums for the first two years after he retires, at an estimated cost of $8,000 a year.
The board pays Dr. Williams a car allowance of $7,500 a year beyond his salary. This means he receives $500 a year for every square mile in the district. The district's total size is 15 square miles, which ranks Kirkwood 536th out of 557 Missouri school districts in area. The Lee's Summit superintendent, who supervises a district of 117 square miles, gets a car allowance of $3,000.
The Second Highest Paid Teachers in the State
The average Kirkwood teacher salary for 2015-16 will be about $70,000, second statewide only to Clayton. Their individual health, dental, vision and life insurance is all free. (Average salary for administrators is $139,482, the highest in St. Louis County and more than $15,000 above Clayton's.
The district spends 87% of its budget on salaries. Had the board been seriously concerned about dwindling reserves, increasing enrollment and the impact of the Hancock Amendment on revenue, it would have instituted a freeze beyond Dr. Williams' salary. Instead, it approved a 2.4% raise for administrators and teachers for this school year. That will cost the district an extra $2 million this year, including a higher payment to the state retirement system for teachers and administrators.
Who knows of an organization that responds to a financial crisis by raising everyone's salary?
The end result of all this: Thirty-four administrators and 13 teachers, librarians and guidance counselors make more than $100,000 a year. An additional 58 employees make more than $90,000 a year. Click here to review the 2014-2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch salary database.
Unfair to Taxpayers
These kind of decisions have been going on for years. Even during the recession of 2008-09, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, everyone in the district got a raise. This while many Kirkwood residents were experiencing pay cuts or freezes, furloughs, or layoffs. Another disturbing issue is that each time salaries were raised, they were disproportionately allocated for higher earners; 70% of the money goes to 30% of the staff.
The Highest Salaries Do Not Mean Better Educational Outcomes
Kirkwood appears to be intent on challenging Clayton for the No. 1 spot in salaries. But Clayton, with a substantial downtown commercial base, has resources that far exceed Kirkwood's. Its residential tax rate, in fact, is 10 cents lower than Kirkwood's. This is a competition that Kirkwood should not want to win, as it reflects the false mindset that more spending produces better schools.
Multiple studies have proven that increased spending does not increase academic performance. Some of those studies are here, here, here and here. If more spending produced better education, New York City, at over $20,000 per student per year, would have some of the best schools in the country.
What's important is not how a district's spending compares with other districts. What's important is how a district spends within its own district. The School Board must recognize that an elite-level pay system that rewards only seniority and advanced degrees does not produce better educational outcomes.