Local school officials are rolling their eyes over a civil grand jury report that lambastes the districts for "generous administrative expenses," and some said they wondered what, if any, research went into it.
The 20-page report, issued late last month, notes that several school district superintendents in Santa Clara County make more than $200,000 a year, a fact treated as evidence of school district corruption. The report admonishes school officials to trim those salaries amid huge state-mandated budget cuts, adding that community college chancellors and trustees should take cuts as well.
"Despite the draconian budget cuts facing the schools in the coming months, there appears to be little inclination on the part of the districts to reduce or even limit the amounts paid to superintendents/chancellors, assistant superintendents, presidents and boards of trustees," the report states. "It is difficult to understand or support continuing these generous administrative expenses, while at the same time teachers, staff and programs are being cut."
"As an educator, I think there are huge gaps in the research," responded Craig Goldman, chief financial officer of the Mountain View Whisman School District. "And it makes me question the conclusions. It makes me wonder if the report is a result of a political agenda as opposed to school integrity."
For example, Goldman said, the report does not compare local administrative salaries to those in other counties or states, or to those of other top officials in Santa Clara County or in California.
Titled "Who Really Benefits from Education Dollars? (Hint: It's Not the Students)," the report also says top officials in local school districts enjoy too many perks, such as house and car allowances. The report came out on June 24, just as state politicians were debating whether to take even more funding from education in an effort to balance California's troubled budget.
The 2008-09 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury said it began the investigation due to citizen complaints over district finances. It takes only one complaint from a resident to start a civil grand jury investigation, according to Don Kawashima, the grand jury's foreman.
The 19-member grand jury looked at expense reports and documents from the 34 school districts and four community college districts in the county before drawing its conclusions. The report ends with six recommendations for schools to save money, including reducing benefits to trustees, reducing perks for superintendents and merging some districts.
According to the report, Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, had the eighth-highest salary among superintendents in the county at $210,000. This averages out to about $60 per student in the high school district. During the same period, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels of the Mountain View Whisman School District made nearly $184,000, amounting to just over $44 per student.
On average, superintendents in Santa Clara County make $26.27 per student, according to the report. The superintendent of the county Department of Education had the highest yearly salary, at $285,000, and the superintendent of Montebello Elementary, which only has one school, had the lowest salary at $46,444.
But those comparisons are misleading considering the different challenges at the elementary, middle and high school levels, said Joe White, associate superintendent of business at Mountain View-Los Altos. He added each school district has very different demographics and student bodies.
Trustee Phil Faillace agreed, saying salaries should not be compared by the number of students. In the local high school district, for example, there are both low-income students who qualify for free lunches and students whose parents make $400,000 a year.
"That is a hard job and not many people succeed at it," Faillace said of Grove's role. "We have been fortunate to have superintendents who are doing a good job. And we are not shy at compensating them." With 17 years on his resume as a superintendent, Groves is among the most experienced in the county.
"One of the things they forgot to put in the report is the Adult School," added trustee Susan Sweeley. "That is 12,000 people we educate there. ... It is not like Barry has this cushy job."
Goldman said it's the same story in the elementary school district. "The report itself does not include a market survey of what it includes for top talents for districts," he said. "We believe what we pay is appropriate to attract top leadership."
The report also criticized school boards for approving benefits and stipends for themselves. Mountain View-Los Altos trustees spent $55,088 on stipends and medical benefits last year for the five board members. Three of the trustees have full benefits, one has none, and one uses only dental and vision benefits. The stipends go toward travel and educational expenses.
The five Mountain View Whisman trustees received $15,120 in benefits and stipends. Other school districts varied greatly, with Alum Rock trustees receiving $106,675 this year and Loma Prieta trustees receiving nothing.
"We couldn't understand why the school boards were getting medical benefits, especially in cases when the benefits exceeded those of the teachers. Board members do not work a full day like a teacher," Kawashima said.
Trustees typically meet once or twice a month to discuss policies and approve agenda items, and they participate in campus and community events.
Administrators said they were obliged to respond to the grand jury report within 90 days by filling out a survey.