Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 3:35 am | A Few Clouds 53º

Contrary to Perception, Santa Barbara School District Not Top Heavy with Salaries, Staff

With more budget cuts looming, a Noozhawk review finds administrative spending below state's average. We've got the lists, too

By Rob Kuznia, Noozhawk Staff Writer |

With the Santa Barbara school board poised to cut millions of dollars from the school district’s budget for the fourth consecutive year Tuesday, the perennial call to keep the knife “as far away from the classroom as possible” has come to sound almost cliché. So, too, have the demands to cut what many perceive to be the administrative bloat.

So it raises the question: How bloated is the administration in Santa Barbara’s K-12 school system? Comparatively speaking, not very, according to a statewide school consulting agency based in Sacramento.

The Santa Barbara school board is expected to trim $6 million from its $120 million discretionary budget Tuesday night, with about 9.3 percent of the reductions coming from the administration side in the cash-strapped district.
The Santa Barbara school board is expected to trim $6 million from its $120 million discretionary budget Tuesday night, with about 9.3 percent of the reductions coming from the administration side in the cash-strapped district. (Kirsten Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

Throughout California, in 2008-09, the average school district spent about 7.2 percent of its budget on administrative salaries. The Santa Barbara School District spent about 6 percent, according to School Services of California, whose director of management consulting, Suzanne Speck, provided Noozhawk the figures last week.

The findings do not jibe with widespread opinion.

“There’s no question the general consensus is that the administration is top heavy,” school board president Ed Heron said. The reality, he added, is that “our administrators are just loaded with responsibility.”

All in all, after enduring three consecutive years of program cuts, the entire budget of Santa Barbara’s K-12 system is about 16 percent smaller than it was in February 2007. The number of full-time teachers has dropped in recent years to around 775 from 820. After Tuesday night, the budget could be 20 percent smaller than it was three years ago, and the number of teachers 45 fewer than last year. By comparison, the size of the student population has shrunk only minimally over the past three years, by about 3 percent.

In short, there is little else to trim that won’t directly affect students.

“We are now cutting off limbs, we’re not cutting fat, and that’s a very difficult place to be,” said Layne Wheeler, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association.

Noozhawk has obtained a list of the Santa Barbara district’s top 21 wage earners and their salaries, as well as a list of the top 24 salaries of administrators who work at the downtown district office at 720 Santa Barbara St. (The main difference between the two lists is that the second excludes principals.) The lists — both of which are being published by Noozhawk — do not take into account benefit packages. Click here for the overall salary list. Click here for the district office salary list.

With an annual salary of $204,400, Superintendent Brian Sarvis is the highest-paid district employee. On this, Santa Barbara’s spending appears to exceed that of the statewide average. Elsewhere in California, school superintendents earn, on average, $150,176, according to School Services.

However, superintendent pay tends to correspond to the size of the respective districts, and Santa Barbara’s 16,000-student system is considerably larger than the average size of a California school district, which is 5,820 students. A better comparative figure might be that which is provided by the state Department of Education, which puts the average superintendent salary for districts enrolling between 10,000 and 20,000 students at $191,155. And that figure could still be low, given that it is from the 2007-08 school year (the latest data available). What’s more, Sarvis in June donated $10,000 of his salary to the general fund for the district’s “2009-10 fiscal solvency plan.”

By way of context, Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of California’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, makes $250,000. But his predecessor, David L. Brewer, took home $300,000.

Sarvis is followed on the top salaries list by Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith, who makes $186,000; Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske, $155,000; special education executive director Tom Guajardo, $138,348; and director of student services Michael Gonzalez, $136,632.

The highest paid principal is San Marcos High’s Norm Clevenger, who makes $125,847, followed by Dos Pueblos High’s Mark Swanitz, $124,022; and a three-way tie between Kathy Abney of La Cuesta Continuation High, Jo Ann Caines of La Cumbre Junior High and David Ortiz of La Colina Junior High, all of whom make $120,813.

On Tuesday night, the school board is expected to decide how to carve $6 million from its $120 million discretionary budget.

Teachers are expected to take a pretty big hit, as the district has proposed increasing seventh-through-12th grade class sizes to either 33 or 35 students, depending on the school. Currently, average class sizes at the middle and high schools range from 25 to 30. This would translate into the loss of about 45 full-time teachers and a savings of $3.3 million — more than half of the necessary cuts. A larger-than-average number of teachers — 26 — is retiring this year, Smith said, which should offset some of the pain.

Proposed cuts to administration amount to $557,000, or about 9.3 percent of the $6 million in reductions. Among the district’s ideas for shrinking its administration are eliminating two assistant junior high principals, a truancy administrator and a childhood development coordinator, as well as replacing the principal at the K-6 Santa Barbara Community Academy with a head teacher. (That school’s new principal, Eric Nichols, was placed on extended leave last month.)

Also on the table is the option to order furloughs for administrators, but not teachers, because such a move would require negotiating with the union.

“We’ve always tried to treat our employees across the board in the same way,” school board member Kate Parker said. “This would be treating administrators differently. But it does keep cuts farther away from the classroom.”

Another option is to close Community Day School, which serves junior high students who struggle in the traditional classroom setting. This year, the school has 21 students enrolled, at a total annual cost of $260,000, Parker said. It employs two teachers, two instructional assistants, one counselor and one secretary.

Heron said he would favor cutting two of the three teacher orientation days at the beginning of the school year.

“It would be a cut to the teachers, so that’s unpopular,” he acknowledged.

As for the teachers union, it hasn’t made much noise about this year’s cut proposals. That could have something to do with how the board and the union have been quietly bargaining, and apparently with some success. On Friday, the district office announced that the district and the union had reached a tentative agreement on the teachers’ contract for the next school year. The details have yet to be publicized, but the board is scheduled to discuss that item Tuesday, as well, just before getting to the budget cuts.

Asked to comment on the district’s suggestions for cuts, Wheeler was cautious.

“The budget report suggests a number of possible cuts; the teachers association would want to know if that list includes every possible area,” he said.

Meanwhile, the district, according to its own figures, spends about 41 percent of its discretionary budget on teacher salaries. Judging by an online report from the state Department of Education, that amount is right in line with the state average.

According to the district’s own figures, it currently spends 5 percent on administrative salaries. That’s 1 percent less than what School Services says the district spent in 2008-09.

“We’re pretty lean administratively, especially at the district office,” said Smith, adding that Santa Barbara is the leanest of the five districts for which he’s worked.

“In any district that goes through a series of consecutive cutting, it’s unlikely you’re going to be top heavy, and I think that’s true here.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

comments powered by Disqus

» on 02.22.10 @ 11:52 AM

Once again, Brian Sarvis proves he is a gift to this community. He has a huge district, gave part of his salary back to it, and has tried valiantly to avoid any cuts that harm students. I am happy that my child is at a great school under Brian’s leadership.

» on 02.22.10 @ 12:40 PM

Really?  With and Associate Superintendent AND a Deputy Superintendent what does Brian Sarvis do?  Maybe we should cut his salary by 2/3 since he has 2 other people doing his job.  How many superintendents do we need?  We need teachers not paper pushers at schools.

» on 02.22.10 @ 01:32 PM

Thanks to Noozhawk for doing this research…it is incredible that the N-P has done nothing on this issue.  It has been clear to many of us for years that the district is not top heavy…it is revenue deprived by the State of California.  Thanks to Prop 13, the State dictates how good/bad/well-funded/or poorly-funded our schools are.  Taxpayers GAVE UP the power of the purse and ANY chance at local educational control.

» on 02.22.10 @ 02:33 PM

This just shows that my principle is alive and well at the SB school district.

» on 02.22.10 @ 02:59 PM

Interesting the additions of years back in increasing the size of administration after Caston, and Flores, cut or kept down the size and costs is now considered business as usual.

Top end may not be unusual with the State, but consider how large the State system has become.  Apples to grapefruit comes to mind here.

There are the forced unfunded mandates by the “we have to include all” groups.  This attitude slops over on “continuing education” that used to be a perk to the community and now people “demand” it.  There is the confiscation of school funds by the State to be “given back” in formula to make it fair.

A gift?  More like a inculcated drone with a fancy degree, who cannot see past his indoctrination.

» on 02.22.10 @ 03:18 PM

California State policy regarding salaries could use revision. When teachers make less than administrators, something is off. Who should we value more? Who’s doing more important work? I say teachers are more valuble.

» on 02.22.10 @ 03:23 PM

Just like the private sector who has had to make deep cuts in their homes and business. The union backed leaders we elected need to make severe cuts In both wages and staff in government, this is way overdue—

Overtaxed taxpayer—Stop the vacant possition scam.

» on 02.22.10 @ 06:12 PM

The real issue that is much bigger than salaries is the cost of retiring these folks in their early 50’s with almost full salary for life, cost of living adjustments plus full health care including spouse.  Forget the gold watch at retirement, they are essentially being given an annuity with present value of $2 - 3,000,000 depending on how long they live.

» on 02.22.10 @ 07:31 PM

Entry level and less experienced administrators don’t make more than the top-paid teachers on a daily basis. They just work more days—225 instead of 185.

» on 02.22.10 @ 09:59 PM

The salary of a U.S. Senator or member of the House of Representatives is $174,000 a year. What in the world makes the work of these administrators worth close to or even more than that?

» on 02.22.10 @ 11:46 PM

Looks pretty top heavy to me. What do directors do? Why is half of this teacher cuts and only 9.3 administration cuts ? Just because it’s below state average means it’s not top heavy? Umm, maybe the average is too high?

» on 02.22.10 @ 11:48 PM

School District Not Top Heavy with Salaries, Staff

Aren’t we allowed to come to a conclusion on our own?

» on 02.23.10 @ 12:25 AM

These wages and staffing are out of control.
The 100.000 dollar club on our hard earned tax dollars—they work for us, and they also have so many days off—rediculous..

Who works for whom..

» on 02.23.10 @ 12:19 PM

Hey Rob, can you find out what Eric Smith earns? I understand his salary is near that of Sarvis’. Also ask what the extras might be, housing, etc.

» on 02.23.10 @ 12:35 PM

Those who wonder what administrators do all day might ask to shadow one of our principles or the superintendents for a day to find out. School teachers and administrators are without doubt some of the most dedicated and hardest working public servants. I have followed our schools and the budget problems for years, and my youngster will graduate from Dos Pueblos this year. The education she has received throughout her school years has been exceptional. It amuses me that someone compared our school leaders to congressional representatives. Not to denigrate members of Congress, but would you want one of them teaching your child?

» on 02.23.10 @ 12:58 PM

Just another example of how out of whack the Government is with pay as opposed to the rest of the people who work to pay taxes to pay the Government Employees.

If you translate those jobs on the lists into the private sector, they are making a lot more than the private sector.  Also take into consideration the fact that these people are only working 225 days a year and have spectatlular benefits, what are we thinking?

If we would privatize the schools, use vouchers and make the teachers compete to stay employeed (just like we do in the “Civilian World”) we would have a better education system that we could afford.

» on 02.23.10 @ 01:17 PM

How did the happen to us taxpayers?—UNIONS—lets vote out government unions—put it on the ballot in 2012—landslide victory for the people..

» on 02.23.10 @ 01:54 PM


In addition to the salaries listed can you also please find out what the retirement, pension, health and other benefits packages equate to for these “average” public servants?  I have heard that the benefits packages are more out of whack with private sector industry than the salaries. 


Noozhawkin’ in SB

[Noozhawk’s note: We’re on it. Thanks!]

» on 02.23.10 @ 04:55 PM

Before reading this article I was concerned that, based on what their job responsibilities really are, teachers were not making what they are really worth.  After reading this article, I’m absolutely convinced of it.  As usual, whether you’re talking about a private sector or public service position, the front line worker is honestly not making what they are truly worth.  When I see that an administrator is making almost a quarter of a million a year, not to mention tenure, excellent retirement benefits and other fully paid for benefits, you have to wonder what they actually do to earn these excessive wages.  They are not responsible for teaching or molding our youth.  That is a teachers very important job!  Just as I am responsible for doing my job well, at the salary that the company owner deems appropriate for my many years of knowledge, teachers get caught in the crossfire as well.  We work our butts off to put money in someone else’s pocket.  Our system is indeed broken.  We like to think that we have a strong middle class and that’s just not true anymore.  Middle class is quickly becoming the “have nots” in our country.  If cut backs need to be done, stop cutting from those of us who can’t afford to lose any more than we already have.  Someone making over $100,000 a year can certainly afford some minor, or temporary cut backs much more than one who makes less.  What has happened to good old common sense?

» on 02.24.10 @ 12:26 PM

How about cutting salaries in half?  I am the sole wage earner for my family of two and we manage on net of about $3,000 per month.  Surely the administrators could take pay cuts and strive to live on $65,000 to $70,000 a year.  And there are bound to be those on the list who have a spouse that brings in income.  Now the total may not be much, but it certainly would show some real solidarity with the teachers who are struggling with no pay raises, larger classes and those teachers who are laid off.

» on 02.25.10 @ 06:12 PM

Thanks for the research; nice to see data for a change.  I’ve read, but can’ remember where, that the average of school admin costs nationwide is just 3%.  IF true, that puts SB at double the national average (and of course profligate CA at 2.5 times). 

But the real issue that nobody wants to talk about is lack of revenue to fund growing salaries and benefits (really, what other significant expense is there in a school budget?).  Thanks to Prop 13.  Anyone want to open that can of worms?

» on 02.25.10 @ 09:29 PM

Anyone that thinks a member of the house or congress deserves more then a teacher or an administrator is losing their mind. Education is so important to our well being as a nation. These are our feature.

I sure hope they can be better then this crop of politicians we have in office now. I would never let one of these people teach my kids.

» on 02.28.10 @ 06:55 PM

Just to throw a bit of gasoline on this fire, what dya suppose the average income is of those complaining about the “overpaid administrators”.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.