Doing what we have always done

Bellaire native and distinguished Bellaire High School and Ohio State University alum, Dr. Walt Calinger, oversees a school district in the Pittsburgh area with more resident students than all Belmont County schools combined. He transports more than 8,000 students per day, including those who attend private and charter schools. The high school operates from seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock in the evening, offers more than 20 sports and has seen an increase in college scholarships from just over a million dollars per year to more than five million dollars earned by last year’s senior class. Music and drama programs exceed those in most colleges. High school students have the opportunity to attend college for dual credit at no cost to their families and his newly established K-8 Academy is now rated in the top thirty in the nation, despite the districts usually double negative harbingers of minority enrollments and poverty levels that exceed 70%.

Calinger does all this, and more, for about the same cost per pupil as most of the schools in and around his native Bellaire. He also does it on about the same salary as an average superintendent in one of our local districts.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it is not. I suggest that you talk to him during one of his frequent visits to events in the Ohio Valley.

Part of the secret, beyond hard work, is efficiency. He employs only one person to handle all transportation, food services and safety programs. Likewise, there one treasurer, one curriculum director, one athletics director, one special education director, one technology director and one assistant superintendent.

And there is only one Superintendent..Walt Calinger.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing his views on the financial difficulties facing local school districts, especially those in the most dire situations, eg., Bellaire Local, Shadyside Local and Union Local. These three combined have only about one-third the students that reside in Calinger’s district, yet they each employ a full-time superintendent, as does every other district in the county. We also pay a superintendent to oversee our Career and Technical Education programs (one of the excellent and most underutilized bargains in public education, by the way). Our local schools also belong to Educational Service Centers, each with its own superintendent.

According to Walt’s math, that’s a total of nine-and-a-fraction superintendents, none of whom come cheap.

Even though most local boards of education do not see fit to publish total salaries in their minutes or on their websites, available public records indicate that an “average” local superintendent has a base salary in excess of $80,000. Adding in the additional salary components paid by local boards though, the total comes to nearly $140,000. The latter amount takes into account full payment by the board of both the employer and employee contributions to the state retirement system, referred to as full retirement “pickup”. In addition, the board also pays in full for the “pickup on the pickup” amount. They also write checks for a separate retirement annuity, usually a percentage of salary; a month of paid vacation; payment of the bulk of family health care premiums, including dental, vision, etc.; paid sick leave; paid personal leave; paid holidays throughout the year; a paid life insurance policy; paid membership dues; and a “cash out” provision on up to 275 days of sick leave upon separation.

When he added it all up, Walt allowed that he would be delighted to administer all the schools in the county if they would only pay him half of the million dollars or so that districts spend now to employ superintendents.

The other half-million or so would buy a lot more classroom teachers.

(It is ironic that we were having this conversation between plays at a football game in Wheeling, West Virginia where the entire county is administered by one superintendent, as is the case in all 55 counties in that state. But I digress).

Beyond superintendents, districts also employ their own treasurers, transportation and food service directors, and a variety of other administrative staff.

So far, most of our budgetary belt tightening in education has consisted of reducing the numbers of teachers and cutting back on books, instructional supplies and technology..the very things schools are in business to do. These are the last places we should be making cuts.

Our schools need not consolidate or lose their community identities to become more efficient and reduce non-instructional expenditures, but they must move toward combining and reducing redundant administrative costs.

Economists like to remind us that if things can’t go on like this forever, they won’t.

Or as Walt likes to say, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got”.

Editor’s Note: Terry Wallace is a Senior Fellow in the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia in Morgantown, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Innovation in Education at West Liberty University and a native of Bellaire, Ohio.