A Closer Look At TUSD’s School Leadership Costs

In 2014, the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction was paid an estimated $85,000, the Arizona Governor’s salary remained at $95,000, the Arizona Attorney General’s salary remained at $90,000, and the Arizona Secretary of State’s salary remained at $70,000, according to the Council of State Governments.

The Mesa Unified School District, which serves nearly 61,000 students, awarded a 3 year contract to Dr. Michael Cowan in May of 2014 with a base compensation salary of $180,000. His contract provides for a 6 percent performance bonus ($10,800 Max) which is adjusted based upon achievement of specific measurable goals. Cowan is eligible to be paid for unused sick leave/vacation up to 60 days, for a maximum of $44,000. Cowan also receives a total of $22,000 paid into deferred compensation plans.

Cowan, the superintendent of the largest school district in Arizona, will earn guaranteed annual compensation of less than $215,000.

In the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), which serves approximately 46,000 students, awarded Superintendent H.T. Sanchez a new employment contract that guarantees his compensation for the 2015-16 fiscal year will be $427,500. In addition to the $427,500, Sanchez will also receive some or all of a $15,600 performance bonus, which is supposed to be adjusted based upon subjective goals he has set for himself. He also will receive reimbursable travel and membership expenses, health and life insurance benefits, and $1,000 for each of the 50 vacation days that he does not use. According to Section 13A of his contract, Sanchez has 50 vacation days.

In a rushed and secretive process, in which only Board members Cam Juarez, Kristel Foster, and Board president Adelita Grijalva were allowed to participate fully, (see video), the Board also voted to add $30,000 to Sanchez’s contract in the last two weeks of fiscal year 2014-15. However, that raise is prohibited by law, and as a result was removed from the contract.

A comparison of the two superintendents shows that despite the districts’ size disparity, Dr. Cowan’s compensation plan almost matches almost matches Sanchez for the year just ended June 30, 2015.  Cowan’s per student compensation is roughly $4.05 while Sanchez received $5.38 per student for the recent school year.

Going forward, the new contract provides that Sanchez will receive $9.37, $6.76 and $7.00 each year for the period 2016 thru 2018. As a result, Sanchez will be paid almost double the amount per student as Cowan assuming that the student population remains steady in TUSD. This year, with a reduction of 800 students, TUSD saw the smallest drop in enrollment in years.

The per pupil spending across the country appears to follow the cost of living closely based on new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this month. Per pupil spending for the nation was $10,700 during fiscal year 2013, a 0.9 percent increase from 2012, but varied heavily among states with a high of $19,818 in New York and a low of $6,555 in Utah.

Naturally, states and state-equivalents spending the most per pupil in 2013 were New York ($19,818), Alaska ($18,175), the District of Columbia ($17,953), New Jersey ($17,572) and Connecticut ($16,631). These states have some of the highest costs-of-living in the country.

States spending the least per pupil included Utah ($6,555), Idaho ($6,791), Arizona ($7,208), Oklahoma ($7,672) and Mississippi ($8,130). These states have some of the lowest costs-of-living in the country.

The annual median compensation for an education professional in New York City with a title and duties equivalent to superintendent in Arizona is $302,295. The annual median compensation for an education professional in Utah with a title and duties equivalent to superintendent is $147,370.

In February 2014, Arizona State Representative Bruce Wheeler, in an email sent and forwarded to hundreds of recipients, told TUSD Governing Board member Mark Stegeman to keep the district’s dirty laundry hidden because it was hurting his chances to win an increase in public school funding. Wheeler was referring to news reports that the District’s superintendent has engaged in questionable procurement practices.

At the time, Stegeman and his fellow Board member Michael Hicks had honestly answered a reporter’s questions about Superintendent H. T. Sanchez’s decision to award a $92,000 consultant contract without Board approval to one of his friends. Later, the Odessa American reported that shortly after being hired, Sanchez advised his friend, who had provided a recommendation to the TUSD position, that he would be looking to hire her services.

Wheeler wrote Stegeman, “Why couldn’t you have resolved this matter internally? I don’t believe you and Mr. Hicks are doing TUSD nor our community any good by your confrontational tactics,” wrote Wheeler. “Why not let Mr. Sanchez do his job to help bring TUSD back to the high standards we in our community demand? Some of us in the legislature are trying to bring badly needed funding back to our public school system. We would appreciate your help in that effort, instead of making it more difficult.”

Contracts like the one awarded Dr. Sanchez have made any claim of poverty by schools hard to believe. As schools across the state struggle to fill classrooms with teachers due to the relatively low pay, the award of Sanchez’s contract is even more egregious.

The Arizona Daily Star editorial board, which serves as the Grijalva apologist on an almost daily basis, recognized the harm of Sanchez’s contract. “The Tucson Unified Governing Board may have bought the loyalty of its superintendent with its exceedingly generous 24 percent raise, automatic pay increases and financial incentives to stick around for the whole three-year contract term,” read the editorial board opinion piece published this weekend. “But its skewed priority puts at risk the unrewarded loyalty of everyone else.”

In other words, what is a teacher to think when they see the inequity? Their loyalty will inevitably be challenged by such a scheme.

Once you lose the teachers, it won’t take long for rabid opponents of traditional public schools to point to TUSD as the reason why traditional schools need to go the way of the dinosaur.

But even Arizona’s anti-public school Governor Doug Ducey recognized that administrative costs are hurting our schools and as part of his budget passed this year, he is requiring that schools spend more of their money in the classroom.

When the likes of Ducey, who never met a chain-charter school corporation they didn’t like, do more to preserve the funding of traditional schools than those who claim to love them while plundering them, the public school classroom is at serious risk of extinction.

Only a frank and fearless conversation about school funding and spending, and a condemnation of bad actors like those found in TUSD can save our public schools.

Related articles:

Attorney General investigation of TUSD called for

Sanchez indicts Tucsonans as bigots

H.T. Sanchez’s emails show promise of contract in Tucson

Wheeler urges TUSD Board to hide Sanchez scandal