Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Got It Wrong When I Defended Sanchez's Contract/Salary Package

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 2:30 PM

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When I first read about TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez's new contract that extends through 2018, I defended it as being on the high side of normal for a superintendent in a district of this size but within a reasonable range for a newly negotiated contract. After following and participating in the vigorous, wide-ranging discussion in the comments section, I modified my support, writing that the raise sends a bad message to the rest of the staff, which has gotten small salary boosts (engineered, I should add, by Sanchez) but not anything close to what he has received. After reading more opinions about the contract and looking over its language as carefully as this lay person can, I've come to the conclusion the salary package and benefits are excessive to the point of being indefensible.

Executive compensation has skyrocketed over the past decades while salaries for the vast majority of the population have stagnated. That's wrong in every possible way. At the same time, we've developed a Cult of the Executive, especially in the private sector but also including the public sector, where we assume they have nearly supernatural powers and attribute every rise in fortunes to their genius while we forgive them for downturns and gift them with golden parachutes. Seeing the same attitudes carried over into the public sector is troubling, to say the least.

The new contract puts Sanchez's salary at $280,000 for the 2017-18 school year. The actual figure, with the add-ons, is well over $300,000, not even figuring in money that goes to pay for his business costs. A starting teacher in TUSD makes about $34,000, and it's unlikely to be much higher in 2018. That makes Sanchez's salary almost nine times higher than a first year teacher's. If we put the salary of the lowest paid full time district employee at about $20,000, that means there's a 15-to-1 ratio between the top and bottom salary. While that doesn't come anywhere near the inequities in the private sector, it's too great a gap for a public institution.

I read through the contract last night, and most of it confirmed what I already knew. There's the one time, 50 percent-of-salary bonus for completing the third year of the original contract, somewhere between $115,000 and $130,000 depending on how you do the math (At least that's how I figure it). There's the $25,000 per year bonus for each of the last two years of his new contract he completes. There's the extra 6 percent each year for meeting goals set by the board, which adds something like $16,000. All that, on top of the annual raises built into a salary which tops out at $280,000, is pretty hard to stomach in these tough economic times, especially in comparison to the shamefully low teacher salaries. It's important to point out that cutting Sanchez's salary and benefits wouldn't have any impact on teacher salaries since there's one of him and 3,000 of them, so that shouldn't be part of the discussion. However, that doesn't make the comparison any less troublesome.

But one part of the contract was new to me. It may be standard contract language, I don't know—there's similar language in his first contract—but it gives Sanchez the opportunity to increase the amount he makes still further. The contract gives Sanchez 40 days of paid leave each year, or eight weeks. That seems like more than a superintendent should get for a year round, full time job, but that's not what concerns me. If I'm reading Section 13A of the contract correctly  (here's the contract for anyone who wants to check), it states that he can accumulate the unused paid leave and ask for compensation at his daily pay rate, which is about $1,000, in June of each year for as many as 50 days, meaning he could request as much as an extra $50,000. That sounds outrageous to me. Any superintendent worth his/her salt should be expected to work as long and as hard as the situation demands. If that allows for ample vacation/leave time, and it definitely should, I say, great. But if the job, which is already well compensated, involves putting in extra time, that's the way it goes. A superintendent should do what needs to be done to serve the district without needing added economic incentives. If that's boilerplate superintendent contract language, I wish to hell it was written into my old teacher contracts. I'd be many thousands of dollars richer today if I were compensated for all the goodness-of-my-heart time I put in.

A final note. For me, this isn't a blanket condemnation of Sanchez or the Board majority that voted for the new contract. As I said in my first post on the subject, I expect people, even the best people, to screw up, just like I think I screwed up when I gave the contract a pass in my original post. It comes with the job. But as a supporter of TUSD, and generally a supporter of this administration, I have to point out errors when I see them, and this gold-plated contract looks like a serious error to me.

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