AISD six-figure earners increase 63 percent in past five years

Austin American-Statesman
Jan. 21, 2013

By Melissa B. Taboada

American-Statesman Staff

The number of six-figure salary earners in the Austin school district has jumped 63 percent in the past five years, at a time when the district has had to tighten its belt and cut jobs, an analysis by the American-Statesman has found.

Seventy of the district’s 11,973 employees make more than $100,000. That’s up from 56 in 2011-12. In the 2007-08 school year, 43 of the district’s 11,571 employees earned at least that amount.

During the same five-year time period, the operations budget has dropped 16 percent, from $862.9 million to $724.2 million. And the total number of employees has barely budged, due largely to state funding cuts over the past two years that prompted the district to eliminate more than 1,100 budgeted positions in 2011.

One of the largest gains in highly-paid jobs occurred this school year, increasing 25 percent over the 2011-12 school year.

Much of that growth was driven by pay raises. While employee salaries were frozen in 2010-11 and 2011-12, this year’s budget included a one-time payment to all employees equivalent to a three percent raise. That pushed 20 additional employees — nearly all principals — above the $100,000 mark.

The employees who earn the most are largely members of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s senior cabinet, who advise her on administrative decisions. Most of the other six-figure earners are executive directors, directors or middle and high school principals.

The salaries for the 12-member cabinet, excluding the superintendent, range from $115,360 to $204,970. Carstarphen caps the list with a base salary of $283,412.

The analysis also shows the percentage of six-figure salaries on the district payroll has remained relatively low, less than one percent. In 2007-08, about .4 percent of employees earned more than $100,000. This year, .6 percent earn at least that amount.

Still, the number of employees in the $100,000 salary range raises eyebrows among those who advocate for better wages for teachers and other staff. The average teacher base salary is $55,137.

“Quite frankly, it surprises me that the number of six-figure salaries has increased that much,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, which represents 3,000 district employees.

“While in the big picture, that presents a small percentage, it still shows where we want to make our investments. When we have little dollars, where we put those dollars is where we show our value in the district and I think we need to value our teachers and our school employees above all else,” he said.

Chavel Lopez, an organizer with the Southwest Workers Union, which represents about 200 of the lowest paid district employees, including cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians, said the disparity between the highest paid and lowest paid workers is inequitable.

Lopez said the group has at times lost the smallest of battles in trying to improve working conditions, including a request to increase the uniform allowance from $100 to $150, which would had cost the district only $40,000. Last year, when the board approved the one-time payment to employees that equaled a three percent raise, Lopez argued for more.

“We were pushing for a six percent raise for the classified workers who have some of the lowest wages in the school district,” he said. “All the folks making more than $100,000 will take thousands more home, while a cafeteria worker making $10,000 would make only $300 more per year. That’s very unfair.”

(Along with other district employees, Carstarphen was offered the same one-time payment, but she declined the raise.)

The number of employees who earned more than $100,000 rose from 50 in 2008-09 to 68 in 2009-10, the school year after Carstarphen was hired. Following the start of a $60 million reduction in state education funding, the number of six-figure earners dropped to 56 in 2011-12, before bouncing back this year.

The district continually reviews positions and job functions when designating pay scales, and those making the highest wages “are at the high end of degree of responsibility and skill sets,” said Michael Houser, the district’s chief human capital officer. Houser added that he has worked hard over the years to offer wages to recruit and retain employees, but often, those who take key upper level positions either are moving laterally financially or even taking a slight dip in pay.

“I would ask the public to understand that it is a competitive salary for the position,” Houser said. “I don’t see anyone, in my opinion, who isn’t earning the money they are being paid.”

Houser said a few years ago, he hired as many as 36 principals in one year, attributing the large turnover to neighboring school districts that were paying more. “We still aren’t the most competitive locally,” he said.

Charlie Jackson, who made a failed bid for a seat on the school board in November, said the issue is not with having highly paid workers, but equity among all employees.

“I watch the cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians come in and beg for a $1 or a 50 cent raise,” Jackson said. “The school board listens to their concerns but hasn’t adopted a policy to improve those wages. We need to be just and equitable across the board in terms of job security and wages for all employees. It makes sense that if we’re going to look at wages, we look at them in all areas, instructional and non-instructional.”

Members of Superintendent Carstarphen’s cabinet are among the highest salary in the district:

Meria Carstarphen, superintendent $283,412

Mel Waxler, chief of staff $204,970

Bill Caritj, chief performance officer $180,250

Nicole Conley-Abram, chief financial officer $180,250

Paul Cruz, chief schools officer $180,250

Pauline Dow, chief academic officer $180,250

Lawrence Fryer, chief operations officer $180,250

Michael Houser, chief human capital officer $180,250

Ariel Cloud, associate superintendent $150,667

Gilbert Hicks, associate superintendent $150,667

Maria Montoya-Hohens, associate superintendent $150,667

Edmund Oropez, associate superintendent $150,667

Alex Sanchez, executive director of public relations/multicultural outreach $115,360

Year Total employees Employees with salaries over $100,000 Operations adopted budget

2012-13 11, 973 70 $724.2 million

2011-12 11,642 56 $703.3 million

2010-11 12,270 64 $742.9 million

2009-10 12,178 68 $729.4 million

2008-09 11,898 50 $865.2 million

2007-08 11,571 43 $862.9 million