Who is overpaid? Teachers aren’t, but what about superintendents…or the governor?

Did you know that about 350 school superintendents in Texas are paid more than the governor? Kara Belew, one of the school privatization advocates at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, pointed that out in an oped on school finance.

Sounds like she was suggesting that maybe some superintendents are overpaid. Some educators, on the other hand, believe the governor is overpaid, if you weigh his $150,000 annual salary against his lackluster support for the school children of Texas.

Sure, some superintendents – 100 of whom, Belew notes, make $250,000 a year or more – are overpaid. Many others may be underpaid. But superintendents are not the issue in school finance because all their salaries combined make only a minor dent in the public education budget. Based on TSTA’s analysis of TEA data, traditional public school districts spend about 3.2 percent of their total funding on central administration, less than the 6 percent that charter schools do.

Nor is the issue the size of the school support staff, which TPPF notes has increased significantly over the past 20 years or so, out of proportion to the increase in school enrollment. A growing student enrollment requires more bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance employees and security personnel, and it is not realistic to suggest that all schools were adequately staffed 20 years ago, or now for that matter.

The real issue is the state’s chronic under-funding of public schools — $2,300 per-student below the national average. That includes low teacher pay, which trails the national average by $7,300 a year. This governor and his immediate predecessor have both neglected that key responsibility of the office, but now, with an improved budgetary outlook, Gov. Abbott has an opportunity to start repairing the damage.

The gulf between superintendent and teacher salaries, as Belew notes, is huge. And you begin to address that problem by giving all teachers a permanent, across-the-board pay raise. You don’t single out a handful of teachers for “merit” or “incentive” pay as Abbott and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are seeking. (So is Lt. Gov. Patrick, although he is pairing his “merit” pay proposal with an across-the-board $5,000 teacher pay boost.)

Belew calls an across-the-board teacher pay raise “wasteful.” In truth, what is wasteful is failing to give all teachers a substantial pay increase. That failure would continue to force thousands of effective teachers to flee the classroom each year in search of professions that pay a more-livable income.

Texas has a whole stateful of effective teachers. We need to keep all of them in the classroom.

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