Baltimore County to pay school administrator $214,000 even as it cuts teaching positions

District has some of the highest administrative spending among the state's districts

March 17, 2011|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

Editor's note — helpful links related to this story:
Maryland State Department of Education data
Professional salary schedules, Maryland public schools
Center for American Progess, Return on Educational Investment report

The Baltimore County school system has some of the highest spending among the state's districts on top-level administration and has just added a new deputy superintendent at an annual salary of $214,000, even as it plans to cut teaching positions in middle and high schools.

State data from last school year show that Baltimore County had 23 people in central office leadership, the greatest number of any school district in the state. Baltimore City schools had 18 and Montgomery County had 17.

Baltimore County had the fourth-highest spending on upper-level administration, according to state data from the 2008-2009 school year, the latest available. The county spent $390 per pupil on administration, while Carroll County spent the least — $200 per pupil. Baltimore City had the highest at $733 per pupil, but since then, schools CEO Andrés Alonso has cut nearly 500 positions from the city's central staff.

Administration spending includes not only salaries, but costs such as legal and business services, purchasing, data processing, and research and evaluation.

The same report shows that the county ranks 21st out of the 24 districts in the state in spending on instructional salaries.

However, the county's overall spending on administration is within the national average when midlevel administrators, such as principals and assistant principals, are included. And urban school systems with large numbers of students who are living in poverty often have slightly higher costs for administration because students have greater needs for more services, according to Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who has studied productivity in school systems.

"In these days of fiscal constraints, there are ways to be creative and spend dollars wisely," Boser said. In general, he said, when school systems make cuts in education, "we tend not to do it in particularly thoughtful ways."

Baltimore County principals have been ordered to cut 196 teaching positions by telling select teachers that they will be "excessed." While not laying off any teachers, county officials are planning to make the cuts through attrition and then transfer the "excessed" teachers to other vacant positions around the county.

High schools have had to make the most cuts, with many of the 25 high school principals reducing their staff by 10 percent, or 10 or more teachers. Teachers have said some Advanced Placement and elective classes will have to be cut and class sizes will rise.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 makes no cuts to administration.

Renee Foose, who worked as a Montgomery administrator, has been hired as a deputy superintendent in Baltimore County and will be paid $214,000 a year when she begins her job next month. She will be one of the better-paid deputy superintendents in the region. In Montgomery, a school system that has about 50 percent more students than Baltimore County, the deputy makes $202,000 a year. In the city, the next-highest-paid administrator below Alonso receives $175,000, and in Anne Arundel, the deputy is paid $164,000.

The school system released Foose's salary Wednesday night, a month after The Baltimore Sun first requested it. Salaries for government employees in Maryland are public information under state law, and school officials in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and other area municipalities typically disclose them immediately over the phone. When asked for Foose's salary the week of Feb. 28, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County school system said the agency has implemented a policy requiring formal, written requests under the Maryland Public Information Act before salary information is released.

The school system also released information Wednesday night showing that 291 employees who work in a central staff position outside a school earn $80,000 or more.

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who earns $307,000 a year after a decade in the job, is the highest-paid superintendent in the state. Alonso is paid $260,000, and Montgomery's superintendent is paid $216,000. Baltimore County school officials did not respond to a question about why spending on administrative costs in relation to other systems in the state is high.

However, spokesman Charles Herndon did say that Hairston's salary "is commensurate with the going rate nationwide for large, complex school systems such as Baltimore County's."

Herndon added that his compensation reflects his long tenure and that he "has provided a level of consistent stability that has benefitted BCPS and its students greatly."

Baltimore County spent about 11 percent overall on administration, said Boser, who studied 9,000 school districts across the nation in a report released two months ago. The most productive school districts, or those that spent the least amount of money on administration and got the most return in terms of good test scores, spent about 3 percentage points less on administration than those districts that were the least productive.

But the research on whether spending more money on administration improves the achievement of students is mixed.

Several years ago, some conservative state legislatures attempted to pass laws that required at least 65 percent of all money spent on education to go into the schoolhouses. (Baltimore County spent 61 percent in 2007-2008.) In contrast, a researcher found that in Texas, schools that spent slightly more on administration as a whole had better results.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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