Searching for accountability Is school system using taxpayer dollars effectively?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Reasons for the impressive defeat of the Jan. 13 9-mill-tax vote for Shelby County schools were varied, according to tax opponents.

An aversion to a tax increase of any kind for any reason since the governor’s tax and accountability package last October can account for much of the opposition; but there are numerous other reasons as well.

One thing is clear, however.

Alabama residents and Shelby County residents, in particular, are demanding more accountable, more efficient government.

To that end, the Reporter will take a look at the Shelby County Board of Education and other government entities within Shelby County which are entrusted with taxpayer dollars.

A financial expert at the Shelby County Board of Education said recently that Shelby County schools is a financial model for the rest of the state.

&uot;You folks need to know – everyone in Shelby County needs to understand this is one of the best managed school systems anywhere,&uot; said Larry Ward of Morgan Keegan.

Based on comments before and after the January vote, Shelby County residents want to know the truth of that statement.

Salaries always seem to be a bone of contention when government entities discuss funding whether it’s funding they already receive or funding they say they need.

Superintendent Evan Major recognizes that is one of the &uot;hits&uot; the Shelby County system &uot;continues to take.&uot;

According to a state report, however, Shelby County’s board spends less than 1 percent of its budget on administrative salaries &045; in fact, 1.48 percent of a $174.14 million budget.

That percentage ranks the county school system as 128th in the state in administrative spending. There are 128 school systems in the state.

Jefferson, Madison and Baldwin counties are often compared to Shelby County. In this case, Jefferson spends 2.52 percent of its budget on administration; Madison spends 2.31 percent on administration; and Baldwin County spends 2.19 percent on administration.

Shelby County’s administrative expense percentage is also well below adjacent city school systems like Hoover, Vestavia Hills and Birmingham at 2.19, 3.61 and 5.89 percent, respectively.

The Superintendent

To the question of individual salaries, the superintendent is the highest paid employee of the school system, currently receiving $127,583 annually. Based on the total number of students in the system, currently 22,700, Major is paid $5.58 per student.

Beginning this year, the Shelby County School Board approved a 4 percent increase to the superintendent’s salary each year until 2006 in an attempt to bring the pay of that position in line with the compensation of superintendents in other systems across the state.

The superintendent’s salary will top out in 2006 at $143,513.

According to the latest available comparison provided by the state, during 2002-03, the highest paid superintendent in the state was the Mountain Brook schools superintendent at $173,968, or $42.85 per student.

The superintendent of the Birmingham city school system is paid $170,000 annually, or $4.67 per student; and the Hoover school superintendent is paid $157,896, or $14.76 per student.

As for county systems, both the Jefferson County and the Mobile County superintendents are paid $140,000 &045; $3.50 per student in Jefferson County and $2.15 per student in Mobile County.

According to school board member Trey Ireland, the board examines salaries of comparable jobs throughout the state when determining the compensation of the superintendent, in particular, that of elected superintendents as the Shelby County superintendent is an elected official.

&uot;Since this was Mr. Major’s second term, the board also had the opportunity of considering his track record in the areas of leadership, Shelby County has positioned itself as the highest ranking county school system academically in the state and at the same time, one of the lowest ranking school system in percentage of its budget going to administrative costs.

&uot;This is quite an achievement.&uot;

Ireland said determining the salary of the person who serves as the chief executive officer of the largest employer in Shelby County is a difficult task.

&uot;You must balance the knowledge that these are public funds with the need to attract and maintain the best possible individuals for the positions,&uot; he said.

&uot;Mr. Major has proven to be an outstanding leader for Shelby County Schools. He has worked tirelessly to provide the best educational opportunities possible for the students in Shelby County.&uot;

Nationally, the superintendent’s salary falls in line with others in the southeast. The southeast average, according to Scholastic Administrator magazine’s October 2003 edition, is $125,013 annually.

Other Administrative Salaries

The superintendent’s salary is accompanied by other salaries to make up the school system’s administrative costs.

In line with other systems across the state, the Shelby County School System employs a deputy superintendent, an assistant superintendent of personnel, an assistant superintendent of finance, an assistant superintendent of instruction and an assistant superintendent of operations.

Each of these, like other school board salaries, is paid based on years of experience and level of education.

Deputy Superintendent John Wright’s salary is $97,768, about $5,000 less than the southeast average, according to Scholastic Administrator magazine.

The salary of the assistant superintendent of personnel is $86,901 annually; $85,340, assistant superintendent of finance; $87,304, assistant superintendent of instruction; $88,986, assistant superintendent of operations.

Evelyn Blake serves as assistant superintendent of personnel; Jim Davis as assistant superintendent of finance; Charlotte Draper as assistant superintendent of instruction; and Tom Ferguson as assistant superintendent of operations.

Also included in the administrative budget are several supervisory positions.

Human resources and personnel supervisor Kristi Williams receives $62,687 annually from the administrative budget.

Cindy Warner, who serves as public relations and community education supervisor, is paid $64,714 from the administrative budget.

As federal programs supervisor, Carol Plott is paid $65,141 annually from the administrative budget. She also receives an additional amount, $7,237, paid from the instructional support budget.

Administrative salaries also include clerks, accountants and office personnel.

Other central office personnel are paid from the operations and maintenance budget, the instructional support budget and the auxiliary services budget.