Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Inconvenient Truths About Per-Pupil Expenditures At Round Rock ISD

Many Texas School Districts are claiming they will have to lay off teachers and increase classroom-size in the face of budget cuts from the state. A closer scrutiny of some of these districts however, reveals that there are areas other than teaching staff that would be logical to cut. The Round Rock District has an astounding $200 million in its rainy day fund that would more than cover state cuts, and examination of district expenses reveal that there are many other opportunities for savings.

One area that seems especially prime is non-teaching staff salaries.  According to policy analysts, growth in administrator and support staff salaries has far outpaced that for teachers.  In the Round Rock district, first-year teacher salaries stand at about $42k, but average central administration salary is more than twice that: $88,794. Ten of those central administration employees make well over $120,000, but of course the most eye-popping salary goes to the Superintendent at $252,875.

In contrast with most RRISD employees, Superintendent Jesus Chavez has enjoyed annual raises for a total 23.5% in increases since his original hire contract in 2006. (This while private sector wages have been steadily decreasing, and unemployment has roared to 10%.) Teacher salaries, on the other hand have grown at a much slower rate with increases of 1-4% each year.  Not only does Dr. Chavez enjoy a hefty annual salary, but also receives many other benefits, including bonus pay of up to $10,000 a year, an annual contribution of $10,000 to his retirement account, and a $5,800 expense account for which he does not have to submit receipts. (Thanks to former ISD Board President Diana Maldonado.)

Taxpayers also pay for Superintendent Chavez' membership in various professional 'associations.'  One of those 'associations' is the Texas Association of School Administrators, where Chavez is a member of the Legislative Committee. The TASA legislative priorities are very much in line with left-of-center education policies in demanding more funding with little or no reform.  For example, TASA is asking the State to build automatic increases into the education budget, to give districts the power to raise property taxes without voter approval, and opposes caps on the amount of tax that can be levied on property.  Furthermore, the group opposes any financial assistance for families who cannot use their assigned public school, since that might take funds away from the district.  (In other words, if parents cannot afford to seek alternatives for special needs education, too bad.)

While the Round Rock Independent School District likes to advertise that their operating expenditures per student is only $7,505, if we include all costs for the district, (such as debt service, teacher pensions, and building and remodeling,)  the total expenditure per student is $11,196.   (State average is $11,024).  Furthermore, when we calculate per classroom spending (multiplying per pupil spending by average classroom size) claims that Texas schools are spending 65% on classroom instruction crumble.  (for example, teacher salaries are only 18-20% of classroom spending.) 

RRISD receives 17% of its revenue from the state, and is properly preparing for cuts.  However, claiming that the only way to survive is to eliminate teaching positions is disingenuous at best, and there are many non-teaching expenses that may be cut.  Perhaps a good starting point for RRISD would be to stop funding membership in left-leaning 'associations,' cut the superintendent's salary back to the rate on his original contract, and cut all administrator salaries by 20%. I realize this would pose quite a hardship on poor Dr. Chavez, but we in the private sector have been making those adjustments for several years now, and I assure him, it can be done. After all, no state governor in the U.S. makes anywhere near Dr. Chavez' salary, and they all seem to do just fine. 

The districts' response to such suggestions have been a snippy statement that it wouldn't be enough to make up the cuts.  No, but it is a start, and as the adage goes, you eat an elephant 'one bite at a time.'

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