Let’s be clear. Teachers everywhere are underpaid. They are among our most crucial professionals. Ditto for Shawnee Mission teachers. But as we all know too well, there are two factors that determine teachers’ wages: The marketplace usually plays a role. And so does state government.
The marketplace has determined that the demand for teachers is not as competitive as, say, the demand for computer programmers. Meanwhile, state government, which is responsible for education, has placed a low value on education and, therefore, teachers. Both suppress wage increases.
Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson and the school board would be delighted to give teachers more than the 4.6 percent total compensation raise currently proposed. But they are working under tight constraints in this 27,000-student district, third largest in Kansas.
That’s why teachers and district leaders are at an impasse and are in mediation.
The teachers think they have been thrown under the bus because the marketplace and the state are working against them. They blame district officials for what is out of their control. They want the district to find a way to pay them considerably more. Teachers have suggested that if the district does not have operational funds, more reserves should be tapped. But reserves are $15.9 million, and the district’s monthly expenses are $18 million. That’s not a big cushion.
In the four years since Hinson took the helm, state government has increased funding to Shawnee Mission by only $3.5 million. Yet the district has spent $23.1 million more on employees. That’s quite a feat. Hinson pulled this off by making the district much leaner, and then passing along the savings to employees.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, Shawnee Mission teachers are the highest paid in the state. The average total compensation for teachers in Shawnee Mission is $65,893. That surpasses other high-paying districts, such as Olathe at $62,289 and Blue Valley at $61,460.
In case you haven’t heard, the teachers union, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), is up in arms because three administrators last year received raises that were far above inflation and far above the percentage increase teachers received.
Michelle Hubbard came to Shawnee Mission in 2015 to become associate superintendent for human resources. Her salary was raised 9 percent to keep her pay equal to men performing similar duties.
Kenny Southwick, who received a 15 percent increase, took over far more responsibilities when he absorbed the total duties of the other deputy superintendent, who was retiring. Southwick combined both jobs into one, saving the district money.
Superintendent Jim Hinson received a 9.5 percent increase. His $254,000 salary is now frozen by the board until 2020. He is paid comparably to Olathe and Blue Valley superintendents, both of whom receive bonuses on top of salaries. Hinson receives no bonuses.
There are so many numbers, it is easy to drown in them. But keep this in mind: The inflation rate over the past three years has barely budged. It has been basically flat.
What has happened to teacher compensation in Shawnee Mission during this almost zero-inflation era?
When you add in salary, health benefits, professional growth increases, one-time stipends and early retirement packages, compensation increases over the last four years have averaged 4.11 percent, although each teacher has different compensation experiences.
Teachers and their union may want the world to be different. The reality of a not-so-appreciative marketplace and an antagonistic state government seems not to matter to them.
But it does matter. As any good teacher knows, the facts, however uncomfortable, are what count.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org.