$22,003 per student feeds Lake Forest High’s insatiable salary monster

January 7, 2013

The culture of this nation, one driven by the unionization of teachers back in the 1960’s coupled with public indifference and inattentiveness to spending, has resulted in the gross over-staffing of our schools with attendant excessive spending.

The cost per pupil of educating a District 115 (Lake Forest High School) student is now a staggering $22,003, with a budget for the 2013-14 school year being a behemoth $43+ million, the bulk of which is to be spent on salaries and benefits.

Last month, District 115 once again requested and was granted the maximum-allowable five percent increase to the tax levy for the 2013-14 school year, a step in the wrong direction. In these hard economic times, a reduction in taxes has for most taxpayers become a need, not just a want.

A frequently used solution to trimming an education budget is to cut teaching positions and increase classroom sizes. But there is a better solution: Reduce the fat from non-teaching “support” positions, such as multiple layers of administrators, by eliminating positions that are in excess of what is required to serve reasonably the student population and by ensuring that administrative salaries are not out of whack with those commanded in the private workforce.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Lake Forest ranks first among average salaries for administrators, averaging $175,375 per year. The high cost of administrators, however, is just part of the problem; the other part is the explosion in the sheer number of administrators and other non-teaching support staff.

All told, there are over 120 administrative (non-teaching) positions to support LFHS, a school that has only 140 teachers and a relatively small student population of 1,765 students. This nearly 1 to 1 ratio of non-teachers to teachers is quite disturbing given that teaching, after all, is the raison d’être of schools.

There are so many administrative positions that it is somewhat difficult to discern who does what, but here’s the general picture:

To begin, LFHS District 115 shares 50/50 with District 67 the cost of a cadre of administrators housed in the West Campus Administrative Office, starting with “Superintendent” Michael Simeck, who commands a starting base salary of $250,000 a year, down substantially from that of his predecessor Harry Griffith, who was paid an astounding salary of $362,339 (the highest in all of Illinois).

Other administrators in the Administrative Office include: an “Assistant Superintendent” whose salary registers $206,469, a “Deputy Superintendent for Finance & Operations” who takes in $237,599, an “Assistant to the Superintendent for Finance and Operations” who earns $61,624, a “Director of Communications” costing just under $200,000, an “Assistant Superintendent of Business Services” commanding $212,836, and a “Director of Buildings and Grounds,” earning $115,433 (these salaries are from the school year 2012 as set forth in a blog by Bill Zettler, Director of Research for the Family Taxpayers Foundation and author of “Illinois Pension Scam.”)

In total, these seven administrators cost the taxpayers $1,283,961 plus several hundreds of thousands in benefits and perks, so let’s conservatively call it a yearly price tag of $1.5 million. In addition to these 7 administrators, there are 13 “Human Resources” and “Business” staff members in the West Campus administrative offices, with a conservative payroll cost of another $1 million, making a total cost of $2.5 million.

A whopping $2.5 million ($1.25 million of it paid by LFHS) should be more than enough to pay for the administration of LFHS, right? That is not the case. There is yet another large layer of administrators and support services on the premises of LFHS.

For administrators, LFHS has a “Principal” ($195,817), an “Assistant Principal” ($182,091), a “Director of Personnel and Instruction” ($112,020), and an “Athletic Director” ($141,862). In addition, each of the thirteen LFHS academic departments has a department head paid extra to administrate their departments.

The administrative positions at LFHS continue, and include: a “Comptroller,” a “Director of Technology,” a “Fee Specialist,” a “Registrar,” a “Service Coordinator,” an “Assistant to Service Coordinator,” a “Bookstore Manager,” a “Communications Assistant,” a “Nurse,” a “Health Attendant,” an “Attendance Taker,” a “Facilities Usage Manager,” a “Student Resources Officer,” a “Manager of Buses and Field Trips,” a “Transcript Manager,” a “Pool Manager,” a “Cafeteria Manager,” four deans, eight guidance counselors, four social workers, seven librarians, fourteen secretaries/receptionists, a staff of ten in the Athletic Department, 15 in the Cafeteria and 15 in Maintenance.

The excesses in administrative positions are palpable. To name a few:

We have too many highly paid administrators who are seemingly doing little other than overseeing a staff of people who are doing what the highly paid administrators’ jobs should encompass!

In the “olden days” we did quite well with just one superintendent managing a school much larger than Districts 115 and 67 combined.

We employ both a pricey Director of Communications and a Communications Assistant. With the amount of money we pay our two superintendents, shouldn’t the taxpayers expect them to do the “PR” that is needed?

The Dean’s Office staff lists 16 individuals, comprised of four deans and 12 miscellaneous support positions. Working in one of these spots is akin to wining a lottery! The staff seems to have an incredible gig doing work that does not require a college degree. All get paid tidy sums. At least one study hall proctor and 3 of the 4 deans are paid over $100,000! Whatever happened to teachers proctoring study hall in their off periods and ill-behaved students going to the principal’s office rather than to one of many deans? It would be surprising if there were more than a dozen misbehaving kids per grade level, a very small number for so many deans.

An excess of guidance counselors likewise seems to exist, six in all, to make sure students are taking all the requirements for graduation and to facilitate class changes. They also counsel for college exams and college selection, basically amounting to nanny-state positions. These are six figure positions, not an incidental cost.

Do we really need to be paying a school nurse, who reports to work no more than 184 days per year, a salary ($120,567) that rivals that made by many general practitioner physicians who work year-round? Does she really need an assistant (do students come to the nurse’s office coughing two by two)?

Might we be able to reduce or eliminate parent-paid fees if we eliminated the full time position of “fee specialist”?
Should an athletic department for one relatively small high school have a staff of eight people in addition to its director and a host of gym teachers and coaches?

Do we need a full-time position of manager of a school bookstore, particularly when a far less costly (and hassle-free) option for parents would be on-line ordering of books?

Have kids nowadays become that much more needy or have our school systems gotten out of control with way more administrators and other support services than are warranted, with taxpayers footing the bill through higher and higher property taxes?

What is needed is a paid Inspector General position to serve both District 115 and 67 (which has an administrative staff even larger than District 115’s). An Inspector General, who must be experienced and independent, should take a close look at job descriptions, work loads, and compensation and determine what positions could be consolidated, what positions are being paid significantly more than their private sector counterparts, etc. The cost per pupil at LFHS can undoubtedly be substantially curbed, over time, without hurting the quality of education one iota, by reducing the massive administrative staff.

Let’s start teaching our children fiscal responsibility by practicing it.

Published initially at Illinois Review on Monday, January 7, 2013.

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