Whoever ends up replacing outgoing Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson will face a choice about whether to keep in place a district administrative staff that has grown significantly over the past four years, or whether to reduce it closer to the levels the district employed in Gene Johnson’s era.
An open records request by the Shawnee Mission Post for administrator contracts from the final year of Johnson’s tenure and for the current academic year shows a substantial increase in both the total number of district-level administrators as well as associated payroll.
For the 2012-13 school year, Shawnee Mission employed 11 people in positions that carried the titles superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, associate superintendent, chief academic officer, director or assistant director. Those people earned a total of $1,503,112 in base salary. This year, the district is employing 28 people with those titles at a total cost of $3,779,373 in base salary.
Under Hinson, the size of the administrative cabinet — the top district-level positions — grew from six persons in Johnson’s final year to 11 today. Hinson added three new positions, Executive Director of Emergency Services, Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood, and Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Performance. He also elevated the status of previously existing jobs overseeing IT and facilities to cabinet-level positions.
Shawnee Mission cabinet jobs turn out to be among the best paid public education positions in the state. For the 2015-16 school year, information compiled by the Kansas Policy Institute on Kansas OpenGov shows that four of the ten highest-paid public school employees in Kansas worked in Shawnee Mission: Hinson, Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Douglas Sumner, and Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Rick Atha.
District Director of Communication Shawna Samuel pointed out that the expansion of the cabinet was executed in line with the five-year strategic plan approved by the board of education, which instructed the administration to focus on improving STEM curriculum and innovative programming, early childhood education, safety and security, and communication.
“While the administrative footprint at the upper levels has grown, these additions to the administrative team are in alignment with the strategic plan that allows the district to provide the very best education possible for all students in our district,” Samuel said.
She also suggested that a direct apples-to-apples comparison of the administrative footprint was difficult to make because Hinson had reclassified a number of positions during his reorganization of the district hierarchy in 2015.
“In 2012-13, some positions were paid on a teacher contract with extended days and supplemental days. The people in these positions performed district-wide administrative duties and not teaching duties. None of these positions were assigned to a specific building or classroom,” Samuel wrote. “Under the current administration, these positions were moved to an administrative contract to more accurately reflect their daily responsibilities – which contributes to an increase in administrative salaries. For example, in 2012-13 the district had 11 resource teachers that were on teacher contracts. They performed administrative curriculum and instructions duties. Now, there are 5 coordinators that handle these same duties.”
Still, the expanding administrative headcount in some areas has drawn scrutiny from district patrons. At the March board of education meeting, one parent inquired about the rationale for hiring two director level staffers to replace Leigh Anne Neal, who was moving into the newly created Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood job after years overseeing the district’s public relations and communications operations.
Neal continued to make a salary of $146,100 in the new role, while each of the new directors is paid at a rate of $110,000 per year. The district also reassigned former Rising Star principal Miranda Hoit to the district communications department after she left the elementary school this fall. She is currently listed as a “communication coordinator” on the district website. In 2015-16, Hoit’s contract with the district to serve as an elementary principal provided $103,046 in non-benefit compensation, according to records compiled by the Kansas Policy Institute on Kansas OpenGov, and she returned to the district as an elementary principal in 2016-17.
By comparison, the Blue Valley School District has a single director level position in its communications department. After 15 years with the district, 2016 marked the first year that Blue Valley employee was paid more than $100,000 in non-benefit compensation.
The growing ranks of well compensated administrators have also proven frustrating to some teachers, who point out that they have only received one step-and-column raise during Hinson’s time as superintendent (though teachers did receive one-time stipends other years).
Samuel said the four years of salary growth and stipends at all levels of employment have contributed to the overall cost increase.
“Four years have passed and salary increases for teachers, administrators and classified staff have occurred in those four years, whether it was a base increase, step increase or stipend,” she said. “This also adds to the overall cost being higher in 2016-17.”