Monday, September 27

KCTV5 uncovers surprising spending in Kansas schools

View the television news story at KCTV5 uncovers surprising spending in Kansas schools.

FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) – At a time when several Kansas school districts are suing the state for an additional $400 million in funding — accusing lawmakers of shortchanging students — KCTV5 uncovered how the $7 billion already allocated for education is being spent in some surprising ways.

Leading the charge against the high salaries being paid to the non-teaching staff in some Kansas schools is Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative and controversial economic and political think tank.

“It’s mind boggling quite frankly,” Trabert said. “There’s school districts where custodians make more than teachers.”

One such district is Kansas City, KS, where last year 91 custodians were paid salaries of more than $50,000. Another two custodians earned more than $60,000. One made $76,000.

“That’s double what some of their teachers are making,” Trabert said.

Right now in the Kansas City, KS, School District, 13 teachers make half of the salary of that highest-paid custodian. The district also employs several painters, plumbers, electricians and carpenters at salaries of more than $70,000 a year.

“When maintenance needs to be done, it has to be done,” Trabert said. “But what’s the most effective way to get it done?”

Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher, of Leawood, echoes those concerns.

“Is this an employment system for adults, or an education system for children?” Melcher asked.

Melcher thinks it would be more efficient to eliminate some of the staff positions and hire outside workers for specific jobs.

“They will be able to do as effectively or better for dramatically less money,” Melcher said.

A July audit by the state of Kansas revealed that custodians in the KCK school district are being paid 40 percent more than custodians in surrounding districts, 50 percent more than the private sector.

That same audit uncovered the district paying school maintenance staff well above the market rate. The report shows painters making 19 percent above the private sector, 26 percent for plumbers, 27 percent for carpenters and 30 percent for electricians.

“You have these kinds of examples really across Kansas,” Trabert said. “And some districts are better than others. But students and teachers are getting the short end of the stick.”

At first glance, the numbers for the Shawnee Mission School District include some questionable salaries; painters making more than $50,000 per year and locksmiths who earn $45,000.

His first year in the district, Superintendent Jim Hinson isn’t ready to cut any such positions without first determining the value of each and deciding if there might be a better way to pay for the work. But that is a process to which he says he is committed.

“We are not going to leave any stone unturned,” Hinson said. “We are going to look at every facet of our operation, specifically fiscally to say ‘is there a better way to do business?”

As such, Hinson says every non-education job in his district is now under review and open to questioning.

“What’s our practice? How has it worked? Is there a better way to do it?” Hinson asked.

If there is a way to cut district costs by outsourcing positions, Hinson says it will happen.

“Why aren’t more districts doing that?” KCTV5 investigative reporter Stacey Cameron asked.

“You know, that’s a great question,” Hinson said. “I think we have to be great stewards of public money and I think we always have to be asking ‘are we getting the best result for our dollar?'”

The audit of the KCK schools suggested the district could save between $2.3 million and $4.4 million by reducing its custodial and maintenance staff or by cutting these salaries down to the market level.

The district’s chief of staff, David Smith, says easier said than done for KCK schools.

“We’ve got much, much older facilities than any other district in the area,” Smith said. “Our maintenance folks are really highly skilled people because they do things most school districts don’t have to ask their folks to do. We’ve got people actually making parts, creating part out of scratch for things in our facilities that are essentially obsolete. But that we can’t afford to replace.”

Smith says both Trabert and the state audit have oversimplified the challenges his district faces. Even so, he says KCK is working to cut back non-teacher spending.

“We know that some of our salaries are above market rate, and we’ve taken a number of different steps including freezing salaries, including bringing custodians in on much lower salaries. We’ve begun to address that. It’s a process that takes time but we’ve been working on it,” Smith said.