It’s the Friday before the election. And you know what your momma told you never to talk about in public: politics, and religion, but most of all–money. Because even good people get really weird and defensive when you ask simple questions about money. It’s almost as if Americans define themselves by their wealth and their sources of wealth!
When I filed paperwork to run for the Clarke County Board of Education, I was honestly surprised to see that the $108 filing fee was based on (3% of) the pay for being a board member.
I’ve served on seven different boards of directors of non-profit groups for a total of 34 years, but I’ve never been paid a dime. If I understand things correctly, the Clarke County Board of Education members get paid $3,600 annually for their service; the president of the board is paid $5400. It’s not a lot of money, and the board members attend a ton of meetings and do a lot of work, but it was a surprise to me.
Of course, the pay scale goes up from there, within CCSD. We’ve got parapros taking home maybe $1,000 a month, I hear. The pay for custodial staff? Not too much better, and not much respect comes with the position either. Teachers? If they are in a conspiracy to bleed our country dry, they are doing a lousy job of it. You can see the numbers here; I heard at a recent budget hearing that the typical budgeted pay for a teacher was $66,000 a year, including benefits. So, really, we’re talking about a lot of teacher salaries under $50K–and, no, they don’t have the summers “off.”
The big money comes at the top, as it does throughout American educational institutions today, in an unquestioned and seemingly off-limits-to-discussion concentration of wealth in administration. If you go to the link that’s supposed to show CCSD administrator salaries for 2014-15, what you get instead is a table of numbers for–2008! Maybe the numbers haven’t changed since then. Translating this old information to real numbers, principal pay is, to the best of my determination, not too far off $100,000. (May 23 update: principals make even more than I thought. The website open.georgia.gov reveals that CCSD principals made an average salary of $100,178.83 and a median salary of $100,556.68 in FY 2015. For comparison, these salaries are $23,000 more than tenured associate professors at UGA made on average in 2014. The highest principal’s salary was $124,950.24 and the lowest was $85,730.24. Assistant principals in CCSD are paid the same as associate professors at UGA. The total payout to principals and assistant principals in CCSD in FY 15 was almost $4 million, $3.96 million to be more precise.)
That’s the annual pay that CCSD’s new director overseeing the charter school district transition will get, too: $100,000 plus benefits, I was told by the Superintendent at last Wednesday’s budget hearing at Gaines Elementary. It’s a good assumption that many central administration positions are also six-figure jobs. (May 23 update: there are 10 non-principal CCSD employees with six-figure salaries in FY 15 according to open.georgia.gov, amounting to $1.21 million in salaries for central administration types in FY 15.)
At the very top, probably, is the Superintendent. Dr. Lanoue started in 2009 with an annual salary of $170,000 (upon proof of doctorate), according to his contract as obtained by the Athens Banner-Herald. Our Superintendent’s annual salary is apparently a little more than $195,000, as reported by the northfulton.com in February. (May 23 update: Dr. Lanoue’s salary in FY 15 was $198,750, according to open.georgia.gov.)
This is the point at which those good folks I mentioned earlier get all angry. “How dare you”–but how dare I what, exactly? Recount publicly available salary information for public servants? Nothing illegal with that. My own salary information is publicly available for anyone who wants to look it up on open.georgia.gov. My 9-month pay (which can be supplemented with more teaching or grants, but isn’t this year) is $20K under the pay that the district’s new charter school district director will get upon arrival, and that’s after being a tenured professor for five years and going up (currently) for promotion to full professor. At UGA I’m paid better than most CCSD teachers, but (May 23 update: remove “probably”) not as much as (May 23 update: remove “nearly”) all CCSD administrators–and of course less than all UGA administrators. These are just the numbers, however squeamish they may make some people feel.
Does it have to be this way? No.
A sterling example was provided in my hometown, when Birmingham-Southern College took a gamble and hired General Charles Krulak as its 13th president in 2011. Birmingham-Southern was in a bad way; its prior leadership had driven the small liberal-arts college into a financial ditch. How deep a ditch? The school was placed on accreditation probation shortly before Krulak’s arrival. That’s big trouble.
General Krulak, who retired from the military as the 31st Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, with sterling academic and business credentials, showed up on campus and blew fresh air into the administration and the college, with honesty and transparency.
The General’s first decision as president: not to take a salary.
What? He can’t do that! But he did. Why? The chair of the board of trustees of the college said, “He cares about young people.” As retired military with corporate board connections, he probably didn’t need the money. The students and the college came first.
Next, Krulak and his wife lived in dormitories alongside students.
What? They can’t do that! They’re old retired people! There’s a big mansion for the President! But they did it anyway.
And for four years, General Krulak redefined what a college president could be. I know someone who worked closely with him during his time at Birmingham-Southern, and the General was as good as his word. He got the college back on a good footing in so many ways. And he never took a cent from the college. He didn’t need the money.
And I don’t need the money, either. Maybe others do, but–despite being a salary-compressed associate professor at UGA–my family and I are doing just fine. There’s no way I’d take even a slice of $3,600 for overseeing a school district with as much poverty as Clarke County has, with as many hungry students, as many dirt-poor employees, and as many well-paid administrators as we have. I have no knowledge of others’ financial obligations. All I know is, just like General Krulak, I don’t need the money. And I want to put students first, just like he did.
From the moment I found out about the salary for board members, I’ve thought, if they won’t let me refuse the salary, I’ll just give $1,200 to Gaines Elementary, $1,200 to Hilsman Middle, and $1,200 to Cedar Shoals High. The Eastside and its schools deserve that kind of tangible vote of confidence. It’s a tiny drop in the bucket, compared to the $137 million in projected expenditures by CCSD in FY17. But we have to start somewhere, to close the gaps.
We hear a lot about the “achievement gap”–but the gaps in this district are large and have a whole lot to do with finances, and geography, and respect. As a board member, I would start by not making any money from my service, just as I have not profited from my service on any other board. (In fact, I have contributed money to most of the organizations I’ve served as a board member; but that’s for another time.) That gesture would close one gap: the gap of trust, the suspicion that someone’s just in the job for the money. That’s not me, just as it is not the vast majority of the CCSD teachers and staff I’ve met during my son’s 13 years in CCSD schools and while knocking doors during this campaign. We’re not in it for the money.
And if this doesn’t sound like the status quo, you’re right. If you like the status quo in CCSD, don’t vote for me. It’s time for questions to be asked and some changes to be made, in order to make our public schools even better. That’s what I want to do, as a member of the Clarke County Board of Education.