Thursday, February 5, 2009

DeKalb County School Board should beware of angry public school parents with a spreadsheet of payroll information.

When angry DeKalb County School Parents are facing cutbacks that are affecting the classroom, they don't revolt, they start doing research in order to evaluate the services being provided by the school system and the cost of those services.

Sooner or later someone finds that the the entire DeKalb County School System payroll spreadsheet is available online and now the parents are reviewing the salaries of the central office against the associated position titles. To save you a few steps, here is the spreadsheet of the payroll data.

Below are just six of the many comments posted to the DeKalb County School Watch blog (scroll down to Feb 4th about 9:30 am) and I believe this will be just the beginning for these fiscally conservative parents looking to assist the school board in reducing costs away from cuts in the classroom.
"208 people making over $100k, 160 people made in the $90's, 386 people made in the 80's" This is unbelievable stuff. I'm guessing most school board members don't know this info. about the incredible waste & bloat.

There are THREE people making well over $100k in transportation? Why??? The question in my mind is -- would these people command this much in the business world? Jobs at this pay grade are few and far between - no matter how much people get down on CEO's - the business world, by and large, is pretty lean.

Oh, my goodness. There is actually a job title of "Miscellaneous Activities" that makes a salary of $90,000. Are you kidding me?

As a stay at home mom, I'm positive I have the qualifications to be a "Director of Miscellaneous Activities." I'll do it for $75K.

I would suggest that the BOE send out a survey to the teachers. Let's ask the TEACHERS who is most helpful to advancing their mission in the classroom - and which jobs THEY consider vital to delivery of education to our children. This system is WAAAAY too top-heavy - and I'm only through the "A's"....

Remember - this is what Johnny Brown started digging into - and we all know what happened to Johnny Brown! Yes, but "they" cannot run us off!!!
As a side note, when will the DeKalb County Government be publishing their salary spreadsheet?


DunwoodyParent said...

DeKalb is top heavy, no doubt. I do not have a problem with high pay for qualified teachers and admin.

The best way to improve schools is to improve teacher quality. Unfortunately teachers are usually from the bottom 20% of college grads.

How to fix this? Make it HARDER to become a teacher! Doing this will decrease supply immediately. With a decreased supply (and increasing demand for teachers) pay will rise significantly. Higher starting pay attracts better candidates.
If you are a top student in math or science entering college, you will work toward a high paying job in the private sector due to pay. But what if a student graduating with a 3.5 or better in their area of study (high level math and science) can start teaching making $70,000 a year (and work only 200 days a year)? All of a sudden you get the best minds teaching.

Bottom line problem with our school is that it is way too easy to become a teacher. Make it harder to become a teacher, increase pay, and schools will improve.

I've met many great teachers in the Dunwoody cluster and experienced first hand the good they can do with children. I've also witnessed horrible teachers who have NO business being in a classroom.

Mark said...

The incredible salaries of Education PhD's is not news. I recall several years ago the AJC ran an article looking at wages of those across several professions, and to the surprise of the writer, these folks were the best compensated according to their research, even outpacing lawyers and doctors who are employed as opposed to operating their own practice.

Are these salaries justified? I can't say and would prefer not to delve into the research. A concerned parent or politician might wish to undertake this task. I do know that these kinds of salaries are widespread and not merely a part of the Dekalb County system.

DunwoodyParent said...


I agree that this is not an issue just in DeKalb. But the outrage here is different than say Cobb. DeKalb schools, for the most part, are some of the worst in the state. If DeKalb schools/students were performing above the national average and the district acted responsibly in regards to growth, allocation of funds, programs, etc. then no one would care.

What the public sees is a central office filled with high-paying people and a district that is in terrible shape.

Remember all that talk of Pay-For-Performance for teachers? Al though I do not agree with that program at all, was it ever considered for central office employees?

Mark said...

It has been many years since I was involved in education related issues. As I recollect, every system with which I was involved or observed, was top heavy with Education PhD's and they were all extremely well compensated. My comments are strictly intended to convey that this state of affairs is not new. Neither is it new that many of these systems do not perform on behalf of students as well as it should.

It may not serve me well to do so, but I must admit I gave no weight at all to schools when I moved to Georgia. Coming from Alabama, and with no students entering a system here, I did not see much purpose in concerning myself with it. If what you say is true, and I've no reason to doubt you, you and the other parents, and students have my sympathy.

When I was involved, I quickly found an often adversarial mindset toward parents who were concerned with the way things were done, salaries, internal politics, and such at the system central office. I also found as most common response, apathy and inaction from most parents; at least until their students were caught at wrong doing or facing disciplinary action. I never did find a way to fix things, but I kept trying to find meaningful ways to help the students and teachers.

Another thing I did was to introduce myself to each teacher who might interact with my student, and let them know I thought it my responsibility to educate, and for them to cooperate to that end. Some took it poorly until they saw I did not wish to change what they did. Rather, I supplemented. One of the greatest results of this approach was that my student was not permanently turned off from history, science, and mathematics.

I hope that folks like yourself, Councilor Heneghan, and other concerned parents can find a way to work with the system to improve outcomes. I spent fourteen years immersed in it and helped countless teachers, students, and principals. I did make some friends at the central office, but they were few and far between. The balancing act is difficult. School boards are supposed to be somewhat independent to avoid being used as a political football. However, this insulation and the power they possess open the door for directions that do not always best serve the students and teachers.

Thank you for engaging me in this conversation. As I think about education issues, I find that I miss it.

Dunwoody Police Watch Group said...

This is no more shocking than the City of Dunwoody presenting the citizens, prior to vote for city hood, with a budget for police and then getting elected and doubling the budget. All the concern over speeding, school zones, etc should ALL be taken care of by the new police department. For each shift their will be 7 patrol cars, 6 officers and 1 SGT from what I hear. There is no reason they should not be able to cover off on these problem areas, they would each have a 2 sq mile area to cover. Come on people.

Dunwoody Police Watch Group said...

When will the city council share with the citizens the budget for the police department?

Cerebration said...

Those are all great suggestions, Mark, and many, many parents already employ your suggested tactics. Sadly, the whole reason this issue came up was that the current administration began cutting the budget by multi-millions of dollars in order to balance the budget. Many of us have strong reservations regarding the necessity of the changes employed and wondered if simply cutting at the top, rather than in areas that directly affect children would be a more palatable action. Currently, the response to budget cuts has taken away transportation for students, Resource Officers, K-9's, driver's education as well as at one point, the Special Olympics (which was reinstated due to
community outrage.) The Board also offered "early retirements", however, as it turns out many of those who took the retirement need replaced - actually costing the system money.

Bloated salaries and redundant positions don't have to be accepted simply because that's the way it's always been - or that's the way it is everywhere. It's a new day - with a new economy - which calls for much more streamlined budgeting. We suggest the cuts occur from the top down - not from the classroom up.

Cerebration said...

Forgot to mention - salaries and payroll account for somewhere around 91% of the TOTAL budget for DCSS. Where else is there to cut? By contrast, Fulton's spending for salaries is only 86% and they are cutting further.

Kcaj said...

From AJC: In the face of the recession and continuing state funding cuts, DeKalb County schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis said Thursday he will seek to cut costs next school year by an additional $16 million.

Those cuts would follow the more than $20 million in cuts approved in November by school board members. And Lewis said he may need to go further. Some of DeKalb’s 153 schools, he said, could “be looked at for closure.”

Full story at:

Kim said...

... and today's headline from Dr. Lewis' State of the System speech was more planned cuts in budget ... through school closings???

Mark said...

Cerebration (love the handle), and Kcaj, thank you for the additional information. I have often observed that bureaucracies tend to take on a life of their own. Often, this life has more to do with the perpetuation and growth of the organization than its stated mission. This, I think, is why you so often fail to see in public and private entities a desire to cut costs at the top as easily and often as they do from their stated missions. Early retirements are often not the cost savings advertised. In most cases, they only save if the position vacated is eliminated.

The percentage of total budget you offer for DCSS is astounding. I wonder how much of that goes to the folks in the schools and how much goes to other administrative costs. I can't think that the properties and their amenities are seeing much maintenance if 9% of the total budget is what remains after payroll. Since I've lived here, Fulton County has mostly seemed to serve as example of how things shouldn't be done. That they seem to have better containment of their payroll cost than DCSS is troublesome.

If one takes it as given that current open schools are open because of need, then how will that need be fulfilled if schools are closed? If this given is not true, then why are these allegedly unneeded schools operating? I have heard time and again here in Dunwoody that the schools are overcrowded. Given the population growth of the county in recent years, I should think the situation comparable elsewhere. I sincerely hope Superintendent Lewis knows what he is doing and his mind is on providing and improving public education.

Ellen Fix said...

The bloated budgets of ALL governmental agencies, whether city, county, state or federal, reflect inflated, unrealistic salaries that are beyond belief. Government jobs historically pay well over the average for comparable private sector employment. Perhaps it's because government has an ever-ready (if not willing) source of income, i.e. the taxpayers. I can't believe governments everywhere are not cutting paychecks in the midst of budget-cutting and bailouts. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for a tax revolt.

Kim said...

@Mark "I wonder how much of that goes to the folks in the schools and how much goes to other administrative costs."

This by no means a scientific answer but ... I went through the list and identified to the best of my ability the obvious central admin functions/titles. This is what I came up with:

Total Salaries: $703,952,561.46
"Non-School Titles Salaries": $21,243,536.24
Percent "Non-school:" 3.02%

This is probably a bit understated because I did not count some titles like IT Specialist and others that are not clearly in or out of the schools, for example. The figures above include the following 26 titles:


Cerebration said...

Mark, let me just say that DeKalb County Schools employ over 13,500 people - only 7.500 of whom are teachers.

Kim said...

Let me correct myself - I used the wrong figure for total salaries in DCSS. For the titles above, the figures should have been:

Total Salaries: $682,709,025.22
"Non-School Titles Salaries": $21,243,536.24
Percent "Non-school:" 3.11%

Kim said...

@Cerebration: "- only 7.500 of whom are teachers."

And of the 6,000 who don't teach, 351 earned that $21 million I quote above.

Kim said...

I completed an add'l analysis of the DCSS salary data versus Fulton County salary data for 2008. Ella Smith helped me id the titles for each system.

For all disclaimers and caveats, see my full write-up at DeKalb County Schools System as Mr. Potato Head?

Bottom line:

DCSS Total Salaries 2008: $682,709,025.22
DCSS Admin/"Central Office" Salaries 2008: $170,590,619.93
Ratio 2008: 24.987%

FCSS Total Salaries 2008:$552,969,891.22
FCSS Admin/"Central Office" Salaries: $56,194,268.83
Ratio 2008: 10.162%

There must be some mistake ... please, let this be a mistake!

Kim said...

For those that don't hear the other shoe dropping in this salary analysis ... if DCSS ran with the "efficiency" of Fulton County in terms of central office salary costs versus in-school salary costs, there's nearly $100 million in the difference. Budget short-fall? What budget short-fall? Don't cut our schools when there is this outrage in salary costs at the center of it all.

Mark said...

You've done a considerable amount of research, Kim. Thank you. A quick bit of division shows an average salary of just under $60,000 pery year. That is good salary given that the average in Atlanta is somewhere between $33-36,000 per year. I suspect there are a significant number drawing salaries far closer to the average and a big handful drawing substantially higher ones. The entire country, private and public sectors, has gone overboard with the idea of top heavy organizations with often ridiculous salaries for those at and near the top. I could easily write a book about the causes and effects of this trend, but it would lead discussion away from the immediate matter of management of the DCSS.

I would love to hear a justification for the difference in the ratio of admin/CO salaries that you've uncovered for Fulton and Dekalb. With a little bit of population and related data, I might be able to believe there are good reasons for some of it, but the spread you show appears beyond reasonableness.

Cerebration, at first glance I can see where one might find the ratio of teachers to non-teachers might be disturbing. Given the many support and administrative tasks required, I can see where it might take nearly one support person per teacher to properly get the job done. I think it might be worthwhile to find some comparable systems who manage the same or better outcomes for comparison.

I wonder if Fulton would make for good comparison. It does suffice, to my eye, for Kim's salary comparison. From it, I infer that the Fulton system is significantly smaller. At least this is the case if $130,000,000 is still considered a significant amount of money these days.

Kim, while more data might be helpful in better shaping refutation, or compromise, it is currently impossible in my mind to disagree with your conclusion. If Dekalb could trim non-teaching salaries by even 25% of the difference you show between it and Fulton, I should think there'd be funds to keep schools open where they are needed.

John Heneghan said...

It appears that one of the most important blogs in DeKalb County has decided to go off the air and in doing so many of the past blog entries were also removed.

For those who want to reference those past blog entries and comments, below is my personal archive.

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