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County grand jury report criticizes school spending

Groves

The Final Report of the 2008-2009 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury challenged the fiscal responsibility of the county’s school boards.

The report, provocatively titled "Who Really Benefits from Education Dollars? (Hint! It’s Not the Students)" stated "school districts are paying stipends, large salaries and extraordinary benefit packages to superintendents/chancellors/assistant superintendents, presidents and boards of trustees. And general salary increases, which appear unrelated to performance, are routinely paid."

After a year of research and review, the grand jury pinpointed six problem areas: "overly generous benefits" for trustees including health, travel and conference expenses and contributions to pensions; board approval of same for superintendents; salary increases for superintendents that "appear to bear no relationship to number of schools, students or employees nor academic improvements"; costly search fees for replacements; inefficient use of county attorneys and pooling attorneys in legal conflicts; and the high management costs of operating 34 K-12 and four community college districts.

The grand jury recommended eliminating the excessive expenditures and applying the funds directly to the education of students.

"When you have times like these, districts really have to scrutinize (superintendent) contracts," said Don Kawashima, grand jury foreman. "You just can't keep adding more money and more money every year."

Locally, Los Altos School District Superintendent Tim Justus received $206,595 as salary for the 2008-2009 school year. His health insurance and benefits were an additional $22,872, and he received a $3,000 car allowance for a total of $232,467, or $55.87 a student.

Barry Groves, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School superintendent, received $210,330 as salary for the 2008-2009 school year. His health insurance and benefits compensation were not released in the report, and he received a $6,000 car allowance, bringing his published compensation to $59.81 per student.

The average salary for superintendents in Santa Clara County is $203,887.

Neither Justus nor Groves was available for comment.

"It is a little difficult to compare a superintendent's salary and job requirements to a teacher's salary and job requirements," said Randy Kenyon, LASD assistant superintendent for business services. "They are both completely different animals."

Kawashima agreed that teacher salaries aren't a good comparison for superintendents, but he said that the mayor of San Jose makes $127,000 and runs an entire city, while a superintendent, on average, earns more than $200,000 and manages several schools.

Phil Faillace, trustee on the MVLA board, said that the job qualifications for superintendent cannot be compared with those of a mayor.

"A city mayor has termed limits and he convinces the people to elect him," Faillace said. "A good superintendent has built a solid record of accomplishment – we can look at this person's track record with confidence."

The report criticized districts for providing health benefits to members of the board of trustees. The Los Altos district does not offer medical benefits, but the high school district does offer the option.

Kawashima said the jury found this unacceptable because trustee is not a full-time job. He said that boards exercise little to no oversight. Of the 35 districts in the county, 22 offer some type of medical benefits, including the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

The jury examined trustees' compensation. For its five board members, the Los Altos School District budgets $24,000 for compensation, approximately $400 per trustee per month. The high school district budgets $16,500, approximately $275 per trustee per month.

"For some people, serving on our school board is really a financial drain," said Judy Hannemann, president of the MVLA board of trustees. "I don't think (the amount we receive) is unreasonable. It isn't even enough to cover babysitter costs."

Hannemann said the report is filled with generalizations, and maybe several isolated incidences in the county need to be changed. She said she feels overall the district is taking efforts to cut administrative costs during the economic downturn.

When the board adopted its most recent budget, it cut the board of trustees' and the superintendent's expenditures approximately 30 percent, according to Hannemann.

Kenyon said that the elementary school district administrators capped their benefits, creating an ongoing savings for the district.

"Our administrators are taking the lead to control costs for health benefits," Kenyon said. "If there are any rollbacks of salaries or freezing of salaries, (administrators) are going to be the first to do that. That is just the culture of how this district works."

To read the grand jury's report, visit www.sccsuperiorcourt.org/jury/GJ.html.

Contact Traci Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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