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Washington State’s School Officials Pocket More than the Governor

By: Rebeca Morla - @RebecaMorla - May 15, 2015, 3:33 pm
Over 2,000 teachers in Camas, Hockinson, and Evergreen went on a one-day strike demanding for higher salaries and more benefits. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Over 2,000 teachers in Camas, Hockinson, and Evergreen went on strike demanding greater salaries and benefits. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)

Teacher unions in several school districts in Washington State held a strike on Wednesday, May 13, to demand higher pay and better benefits. They gathered to protest the lack of progress by state lawmakers in Olympia to present a new state budget and funding for local schools.

However, a new study released by the Washington Policy Center (WPC) indicates that only 60 cents of every tax dollar destined for education spending actually reaches classrooms.

Liv Finne, director of WPC’s Center for Education, indicates in a paper titled Where the Money Goes in Public Education (PDF) that administrative costs in school districts are soaring, and that at least 55 school superintendents receive a higher annual salary rate than Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

While teachers strike for better wages in Washington state, Liv Finne shows that over 220 superintendents are currently paid at a rate three times greater than the state starting teacher salary. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Research from the WPC shows that over 220 superintendents are paid at a rate three times greater than the state starting-teacher salary. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)

Many of these public servants also work in districts with fewer than 100 students. Among them is Lacrosse district Superintendent Randy Nelson, responsible for an average of 65 students, who is paid a salary rate of US$120,000. Meanwhile, Keller district’s Mike Perry has 40 students, and earns $105,000 pro rata.

In the same vein, Mill A district Superintendent Kathy Whitlock, with 22 students, has a $97,000 salary rate. Bill Glidewell from Evergreen (Ste) district earns $93,000 pro rata, although the number of students in the area is no more than 20.

Finne further demonstrates that 34 school superintendents are paid at a rate higher than $200,000 a year, 36 are paid at a rate three times greater than the average teacher salary of $62,400, and 220 superintendents are paid at a rate three times greater than the state starting-teacher salary of around $34,000.

The most shocking finding, however, is that certain superintendents earn some of the highest salaries in government, even though they only oversee modestly sized school districts. Bellingham district’s Greg Baker oversees 10,600 students and earns an annualized $298,000. Meanwhile, Elaine Beraza, from the Yakima district with 15,700 students, receives $228,000 pro rata.

Finne concludes that superintendents’ high salaries not only “contribute to income inequality,” but also “contribute to a sense of unfairness that administrators are paid so much while teachers say they are often underpaid and forced to go short on classroom supplies.”

Furthermore, she argues that the public education system needs reforms “to the outmoded and outdated ways school dollars are now spent.”

“It makes sense that some parents be allowed to choose an education voucher as a way to access alternative learning programs for their children, especially for families assigned to underperforming schools,” she adds.

Finne told the PanAm Post that the central problem with the allocation of resources for education is that schools operate as monopolies. “In a monopoly system, consumers get less and less service at a higher and higher cost,” she said.

“Public-school managers have no incentive to improve service or bring down costs because public funding is guaranteed. If parents could direct where the money goes, or does not go, you would quickly see school managers respond by delivering more public resources to school classrooms,” Finne added.

Ending the Monopoly

Libertarian commentator and writer David Shellenberger told the PanAm Post that he was not surprised by the “absurdly high salaries” for many school superintendents. “The government will always allocate resources politically, this is its nature,” he said.

According to Shellenberger, only a free market in education would allow parents to select the schools or other resources that best meet their children’s needs. “It would also foster innovation, excellence, and reasonable pricing,” he emphasized.

“The current system limits choice,” he argued, adding that “the purpose of government schools is to serve bureaucrats and teachers unions, while indoctrinating students and teaching them to conform.”

“The government is the worst provider of any service … We need a free market in education, with no government subsidies or regulation. We also need to end compulsory education laws, allowing parents to raise their children as they see fit,” Shellenberger stated.

“Rather than trying to reform a system that is inherently flawed, I recommend freeing education from the clutches of the government,” he concluded.

Rebeca Morla Rebeca Morla

Based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Rebeca Morla works as an editorial assistant with the PanAm Post. She is a political scientist and an Executive Board member of EsLibertad. Follow @RebecaMorla.