In my town of around 2,300 people and a school district of about 1,000 students, the last superintendent’s annual salary was around $115,000 including benefits. This isn’t even arguing that he wasn’t worth every penny. Where I have problems, is that in my county of around 8,000 people, there are another three more relatively compensated superintendents. That’s four superintendents for about 2,000 children. This is a similar pattern as detailed in a 2014 report by Oklahomawatch.org.
At Reydon Public Schools in western Oklahoma, the superintendent makes $116,000 a year, including benefits, to oversee one of the smallest districts in the state, at 124 students. That’s $936 per student, compared to $6 for Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, the highest paid superintendent this year, at $260,000.
According to the same report, in 2011 Oklahoma had 524 public school districts, down to 517 by 2014. Measured against the rest of the nation of students per district and that places Oklahoma at 44th of 51 states including the District of Columbia. Given that in the same year, Oklahoma ranked 48th out of 50 in per-pupil spending while spending on district oversight increased by nearly 13 percent when adjusted for inflation. This means that the actual money spent in classrooms educating children has decreased as more is spent on oversite.
I understand the problems many communities face. Oklahoma’s geography is limiting, such as in Western Oklahoma, where closing one school to consolidate with another would mean bussing in students from over 30 miles away. This is an unreasonable burden even if the expenses justify it. This is also why many districts fight against consolidation. I’m not calling for that. I don’t want to close individual schools, but to look at the actual administration of the schools.
Consider how other states such as Texas run their city-wide unified school districts. Texas ISDs maintain independent campuses, but a unified administration with only one extremely competent superintendent and staff. To put numbers to that, Lewisville ISD in Lewisville, TX has enrolled 52,045 students as of March of 2018 over 69 campuses, grades K-12. They are led by Dr. Kevin Rogers, Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. Lori Rapp, Deputy Superintendent. That’s one Superintendent and one deputy, both Ph.D.’s officiating the education of over 50,000 students. Back on the North bank of the Red River, compare this to the county I call home, where four separate school districts, complete with four admin staffs, service only around 2,000 students.
Likewise, if it were possible to cut Oklahoma’s 3.2-percent rate of spending on district oversight to that of Hawaii’s, the lowest in the nation at 0.5 percent, the savings would amount to $249 per student, or $165 million, a year. That isn’t going to solve all of Oklahoma education’s budgetary woes, in fact, very few of them, but if every dollar of that were to go to Oklahoma’s teachers, it would amount to a pay raise of more than $3,000 per year.
Will consolidating many of the school’s administrations solve all of their problems? Hardly, but is it somewhere we need to be looking. Yes, and in fact, it’s one of the easiest options we have.