Committee rejects bill to limit school administrators

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By Seth Klamann Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — It’s been a common refrain as Natrona County has closed schools and Wyoming has cut K-12 education: There are too many administrators making too much money.
But at an education meeting earlier this week, a legislator withdrew a bill that would’ve capped the number of administrators a district can have after other lawmakers and educators push backed on the suggestion. Currently, the state’s funding model provides money for a certain amount of administrators, though many districts have more than are allotted.
The bill didn’t seem appetizing even to Rep. Albert Sommers, who brought it forward. Indeed, it seemed more an exercise in education than an attempt to bring districts into line.
“This is something I kept hearing over the course of the interim from everyone from legislators to constituents to, frankly, teachers: Do we have too many administrators?” he told the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration on Tuesday. “I’m not saying this is a good idea or a bad idea. I’m just going to give you some information.”
He said that in terms of central office administrators, there are about 20 more statewide than what the funding model allocates. There are 40 more clerical staff at central offices across the state than are allotted. But, on the school administration level — principals, for instance — there are about 60 less.
“If you look at it all together, there’s not a lot of difference,” Sommers concluded.
In Natrona County, there are roughly 25 administrators at the district level, from Superintendent Steve Hopkins on down. That’s an administrator for roughly every 520 students. There’s a similar number in Laramie County School District No. 1, the only district larger than Natrona County’s.
The district’s central offices have eliminated more than 50 positions over the past three years, including a handful of administrators and an associate superintendent. Two administrators in Natrona County will retire this year, and the district has already said official will fill those positions.
Criticism for Sommer’s proposal was universal.
“I don’t know that this gets us any substantial savings or any changes in what’s actually out there,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said. “I hear this problem as well. I don’t know if the data bears out that it’s as much of a problem as the anecdotes do.”
Rep. David Northrup, a Powell Republican, said the state should allow local school boards to use their funding as they see fit.
“We’ve given them a model, let’s leave it alone,” he said.
After more discussion, Sommers pulled the bill.
Rothfuss noted that another public concern is administrators’ salaries, which Sommers’ proposal wouldn’t have addressed. But another bill, sponsored by Rep. Clark Stith, would cap those salaries at what the model allows. In 44 out of the state’s 48 school districts, superintendents are technically overpaid, state Department of Education data shows.
Natrona County’s Hopkins makes more than $195,000 — $33,000 more than the model suggests. His two associate superintendents each make $147,000, more than $17,000 above the model.
Hopkins is the third-highest-paid superintendent in the state, after Sheridan 2’s Craig Dougherty and Laramie 1’s John Lyttle.
On average, Wyoming’s superintendents are paid $139,000, nearly 22 percent higher than what the model allocates.
Though not responding specifically to Stith’s bill — which was filed the day after the meeting — educators defended superintendents’ pay.
“Superintendent in your community is a high-risk position,” said Kirk Schmidt, an assistant superintendent in Fremont County School District No. 21. “Almost as bad as football coach, but not quite. ... They never have board meetings that are very controversial over the math teacher.”
At a glance
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