John Lackey had a sneaking suspicion that Madison County Schools was suffering from “administrative bloat.”

He did not have any data to back up his gut feeling, but over time, the school board member came to believe that the district had too many employees in its Central Office, particularly assistant superintendents and their support staff, he said.

“We have five assistant superintendents,” Lackey said, adding that few Kentucky counties have more than four.

Lackey and the other school board members asked for a comparison of the school district’s administrative costs to similar counties.

The board received a comparison, but it did not answer his questions.

“I was much more concerned about the number of employees in each particular department, rather than the amount of compensation for similar jobs in other districts,” he said Thursday.

The Richmond Register has completed its own comparison of the Central Office staff and salaries to a handful of other districts. Some of the answers Lackey is seeking were easily attainable by asking the local district to provide a list of employees, job titles and yearly salaries. (The Register requested this information in July through an official open records request. Figures in this story reflect pay rates as of July.)

Salaries for the Madison County Schools’ Central Office staff total more than $4.5 million a year, about 6 percent of the district’s $73 million budget.

Thirty-four of the office’s 109 employees receive more than $50,000 a year, with 11 of those  also being known recipients of state pensions.

Madison County’s five assistant superintendents make between $80,000 and nearly $95,000 a year, according to figures provided by the district.

At the time of the open records request, Superintendent Tommy Floyd was making $140,409. In April, the school board raised his annual salary to about $155,000.

The board said it increased the salary because it did not want other districts in search of new superintendents to lure Floyd away with an offer of higher pay.

At the time, the superintendent referred questions about the bump in pay to Doug Whitlock, then the board’s chair.

This week, however, when asked if he thought it was a mistake to reserve comment and if he would like to comment now, Floyd said he is “grateful for the board’s confidence.”

“Since arriving in the district in 2006, I have been committed to the success of the Madison County School District,” he said. “We (Floyd and the board) are working together to make Madison County Schools the very best public school district in the state.”

After the raise, the Register heard from many school employees who questioned the timing and validity of the increase. Several spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared retaliation if they spoke out.

Comparing the numbers

The Register requested the same salary information from four other school districts, Boyle, Franklin, Laurel and Warren counties.

In 2010, Madison County Schools had 9,978 students, according to Kentucky District Data Profiles School Year 2010, a report compiled by the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) in Frankfort. The 2010 school year is the latest LRC report available.

Using those figures, Madison’s Central Office staff-to-student ratio is 1 to 91.

Madison County had 647 classified personnel in 2010, and 788 certified personnel. The average teacher pay was $47,663, and 52 percent of students were receiving free or reduced lunches. Sixty-four percent of the district’s budget was used for instruction, LRC reported.

The Boyle County School District is much smaller, with 2,652 students in 2010. Its Central Office staff is comprised of 20 employees, according to information provided by the district. Salaries for those employees total just over $1 million.

Unlike Madison County, Boyle County did not include its transportation director or bus mechanics on its Central Office staff roster.

Boyle County’s Central Office staff-to-student ratio is 1 to 132.

The district has one assistant superintendent, who makes $81,590 each year. The superintendent’s salary is $117,869. No double dippers were listed.

Boyle had 178 classified and 218 certified personnel in 2010. The average teacher pay was $48,313, and 40 percent of its students received free and reduced lunches. Fifty-nine percent of its budget was used for instruction.

The Franklin County School District had 5,887 students in 2010. Annual salaries for its 78-member Central Office staff cost $3.4 million. Twenty-six employees make more than $50,000.

Franklin also did not list transportation employees on its roster, but did list all district-wide employees.

The Central Office staff-to-student ratio is 1 to 75.

Franklin has two assistant superintendents, making $103,217 and $97,740 each year. The superintendent’s salary is $136,772.

The district had 440 classified and 460 certified personnel in 2010, and the average teacher pay was $44,320. About 48 percent of students received free and reduced lunches. Fifty-seven percent of the district’s budget is used for instruction.

The Laurel County School District is similar in size to Madison, with 9,121 students in 2010, according to the LRC report.

Laurel employs 39 in its Central Office. The staff roster submitted to the Register did not include the district’s transportation director of bus mechanics.

The Central Office staff-to-student ratio is 1 to 233.

Salaries for the district’s employees total $2.1 million a year.

Laurel has one deputy superintendent and one assistant superintendent, who receive $100,857 and $89,276, respectively. The superintendent’s salary is $122,349.60.

Twenty-one of the district’s Central Office employees make more than $50,000 a year, and there are two double dippers, making $47,767 and $14,000 a year.

In 2010, Laurel had 654 classified and 654 certified personnel, and 59 percent of the district’s budget was used for instruction, according to LRC. The average teacher pay was $48,216, and 60 percent of students received free and reduced lunches.

The Warren County School District had 13,121 students in 2010, according to LRC. The Central Office staff-to-student ratio is 1 to 267.

The annual salaries of Warren’s 49 Central Office employees is about $2.4 million. Sixteen of those employees earn more than $50,000 a year. There are four double dippers, ranging in salary from $22,000 to $27,000 a year.

The superintendent is paid $145,000. He has one assistant superintendent, who is paid $94,705 each year.

In 2010, Warren had 935 classified and 949 certified personnel, and the average teacher pay is $45,431. Fifty-two percent of students received free and reduced lunches, 67 percent of the budget was used for instruction.

What do the comparisons mean?

The Register requested the same information from each district, but central offices across the state are organized differently. As noted earlier, transportation officials were not included in the rosters for the comparison districts, but that is the only notable difference.

Floyd said he could not explain the difference in salary costs “without specific knowledge of what positions are listed for the other districts referenced.”

The Madison County Board of Education was audited in 2005 by an outside agency, which concluded that the district needed to “restructure its organizational chart to reflect a more vertical structure,” the superintendent said. It called for the creation of some administrative positions, he said.

“In order to be effective leaders of an effective school district, the district utilizes the administrative staff necessary to oversee all the programs, initiatives and services provided to the more than 10,700 students we serve each day,” Floyd said.

A salary comparison completed by Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent and director of human resources, compared salaries of Madison County teachers and administrators to salaries in 13 other districts (Boone, Hardin, Kenton, Warren, Bullitt, Oldham, Daviess, Pike, Laurel, Christian, Scott, Pulaski and Jessamine). In pay for assistant superintendents, for example, Madison County is second lowest at $91,231, according to Hub’s chart.

In the category of high school principal pay, Madison is the fifth lowest. For Rank 1 teacher pay, Madison was in the middle.

Superintendent pay was not included on the chart.

Madison’s number of assistant superintendents often is the source of ire for readers of the Richmond Register and critics of the school district. But, Floyd said Madison County is the second largest employer in the county, “so appropriate leadership is required.”

A controversial year

Throughout the past year, as local residents have struggled to deal with the uncertainties of a down economy, the use of taxpayer dollars by governments and other entities has come into focus. Citizens who used to assume that city, county, state and school officials were making the best use of taxpayer funds have taken a new look at the spending of their hard-earned tax dollars.

A non-partisan organization, Madison County Tax Watch, formed to hold local officials accountable for how they spend tax dollars.

The group organized in September, after the school board voted to raise property tax rates to 58.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, up from 56.4 cents. The rate was calculated to increase revenue by 4 percent, the most state law allows without it being subject to a referendum.

“The increase in taxes got people interested” in finding out how tax dollars were being spent, said Elaine Steinbach, a member of Madison County Tax Watch who attends most of the school board meetings to report back to group members.

In addition to raising Floyd’s salary by nearly 12 percent, the school board dispersed a $700,000 surplus as a 1-percent bonus to employees. It made Steinbach wonder why a property tax increase was needed.

“We’re concerned about how the funds are being used,” she said. “It looks like there is waste.”

Steinbach said she and members of the watchdog group especially are concerned when they see low test scores and hear rumors of textbook shortages.

“How many books could the $700,000 surplus have purchased?” She asked.

The board also has implemented or announced expensive new initiatives, such as the EKU Middle College, a program that costs about $300,000 a year and currently serves only 40 students. Next year’s set of 60 juniors to be added to the program, requiring an additional $300,000.

Floyd’s raise was granted one day after the Madison County Health Department and the school district announced that public health services would be reduced in the coming year, a result of what it called budgetary constraints.

The school district continues to pay the same amount it paid previously, but because health department costs increased, fewer nurses are available to schools.

 The decision did not sit well with some parents and school personnel, who feared nursing resources were being stretched too thin.

Floyd reiterated this week that the school district has maintained its financial commitment to the school nurse program.

“Cuts in the school nursing program came from the Madison County Health Department,” he said. “Madison County Schools’ financial commitment to the program has not changed. The nurses are employed by the Madison County Health Department not the school district. The only full-time nursing staff employed by the district is District Nurse Coordinator Becky Carr.”

The Register asked Floyd how schools were coping with fewer nurses, but he only answered questions about how the shortage came about.

At a tax hike protest in October, Richmond resident Jim Ramsay said school employees would have rather had the $700,000 surplus used for more school nurses, or to update aging computer equipment.

Tax-watch group members who are following the board’s actions were appalled by its recent approval of plans for a $4.5 million athletic complex at Madison Central High School.

Steinbach said perhaps the board should focus on improving academic achievement before building athletic complexes.

Lackey agrees. Improving teacher-to-student ratios and test scores should come before extracurricular activities, he said.

When asked about controversial decisions this year, from Middle College to his own raise, Floyd said, “In Madison County Schools, every student counts.”

“We place priority on the programs and initiatives that meet the needs of each of our students individually so that they all have the same opportunity for a successful Grade 13,” he said. “Some of the programs are niche programs because some of the needs of the students are niche needs. Scores on tests such as KCCT, MAP and ACT are improving.”

He said he does not think salaries or expenditures are “high,” referring to Hub’s chart.

Floyd said it is the right of every person who pays taxes to question the spending and use of funds collected for government agencies, including public school districts.

“Generally, a school tax is the largest tax on a property tax bill and thus draws the most attention,” he said.

The district also hears from members of the community on a variety of topics, not just finances, the superintendent said.

But, Steinbach and resident David Devore, who also has been attending recent school board meetings, say they feel they “are getting nowhere” when they ask questions during the public comment session of school board meetings.

“When we ask questions, we’re not getting any response,” Steinbach said. “It’s like we’re not being understood. They only say, ‘Thanks for your time.’”

Their questions are not rhetorical, she said, and even Lackey’s questions often go unanswered.

“It’s like they’re not even listening to us,” she said.

Register News Writer Ronica Shannon contributed to this story.

Lorie Love Hailey can be reached at editor@richmondregister.com or 624-6690.

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