Monied managers: PPS administrators continue to see major raises
Climb into a time machine and recall that way back in 2014 — before a controversial new contract that year — the longtime superintendent of Portland Public Schools made $193,000 per year.
These days, two new deputy superintendents make more than Carole Smith did to lead the district during her first seven years.
Claire Hertz, head of PPS business and operations, and Yvonne Curtis, head of PPS instruction and school communities, both make $195,000 annually. That's just their base salary. Health insurance, retirement and other benefits are extra.
Their boss, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, makes $295,000 — 19 percent more than Smith's highest salary of $247,000.
Meanwhile, teachers were pretty happy to get 8.2 percent in raises over a new three-year contract signed earlier this year.
Administrator salaries are controversial all across the country, with economists pointing to evidence that manager wages continue to far outpace the rest of workers' pay. But in PPS, several current school board members were elected on promises to rein in what many saw as an overpriced central office.
Guerrero also rode on that sentiment when he announced during the April budgeting process that he cut 65 administrative positions — many of them vacant at the time. The move was touted as a way to save money and focus more resources in the classroom.
But salary records show that the central office now has even higher wages for many administrators — and more of them.
In 2015-16, a request for salary records of those making $70,000 per year or more in the central office turned up 207 names. Records of November's salary information of everyone working in the central office turned up 311 people making more than $70,000 per year.
Willamette Week reported in 2015 that there were 63 central office employees making more than $100,000 per year.
There are now 94.
The median salary in the Portland metro area is $56,980.
Direct comparisons tricky
The new organizational structure Guerrero implemented for his administration makes many direct comparisons difficult.
However, there are some positions that have the same titles.
For example, at $159,500, the superintendent's Chief of Staff Stephanie Soden makes 17 percent more than former chief Amanda Whalen did. (District spokesman Harry Esteve said Soden manages several departments — including his — which Whalen didn't.)
The woman who replaced Mary Pearson as director of special education this summer makes 29 percent more than Pearson did in 2015-16. Mary Mertz, who also worked in that position for PPS years ago, now takes home a salary of $157,465.
Three of the district's highest-paid positions are filled by pricey consultants, a reality that at least one of them — Interim Budget Director Ryan Dutcher — has himself pointed out as an opportunity for the district to save money. His firm, Two Ocean Partners, cost a whopping $172,660 for the two months between Aug. 31 and Oct. 31.
Liz Large, the district's interim general counsel, works on a quarterly contract. The last one available, ending on Sept. 30, was valued at $85,000. That works out to about $28,333 per month in total costs (not just salary).
Sharon Reese, who leads the Human Resources Department after the sudden departure of Kylie Rogers, works under a contract through The Gunter Group. The latest amendment for five months of her services cost $149,000, but that also includes a few other people working on finance and human resources systems.
Still, that works out to almost $30,000 per month.
A longstanding controversy
The district saw a mass exodus from the central office after the sudden retirement of Smith and the beginning of an administrative salary freeze. Administrators, including former HR director Sean Murray, who left in 2017, repeatedly told the board that salaries at the top needed to increase to keep employees around, but some board members worried that there was little justification for the round of raises.
School board member Julia Brim-Edwards, whose current term started in 2017, pointed to a rigorous compensation study the board undertook to set a pay scale before hiring Guerrero. The other administrators' salaries, Brim-Edwards said, are up to the superintendent to set.
"My expectation is that the superintendent is going to set the salary scale and that's done periodically in consultation with the board," she said. "My expectation going forward would be that there is a rigorous performance evaluation process. If we're paying people at the high end of the market range, there should be a rigorous accountability system in which they are evaluated on their performance."
Brim-Edwards noted evaluations hadn't happened with everyone in the central office this year due to the large volume of administrative turnover. But she said Hertz has promised it will happen this coming year.
In 2015, a wave of public controversy surfaced around the discovery that some administrators' salaries had seen double-digit percentage-point increases, becoming a major issue in that year's school board election.
School board member Mike Rosen was staunchly opposed to a bloated administration, promising voters that he would use his "management experience to ensure our tax dollars are well spent and focused on classrooms, students and teachers."
After his election, he quickly ushered in an administrator salary freeze, but seems to have lost focus on the issue.
Rosen put off a request for comment Thursday until Monday, when he released the following statement:
"The superintendent is responsible for management hiring decisions and respective salaries," Rosen said. "As an organization, PPS is recruiting nationally for the best talent that is committed to getting the school district turned around and delivering high quality schools in every neighborhood. If senior management's pay is at the top of the market, we expect to get top-of-the-market results. That's the accountability I'd expect."
Loyalty pays off
Staying on through the administrative chaos of former superintendent Smith's resignation and Interim Superintendent Bob McKean's temporary leadership seems to have paid off for many. Those who have stayed make significantly more money than they did a couple of years ago.
For example, to direct PPS athletics programs, Marshall Haskins made $115,475 in 2015-16. This year, he is at $130,209, a 13 percent boost.
Guerrero also changed Smith's system of "senior directors of schools" to a stratified system of "area assistant superintendents" and "area directors." But there are still eight people filling those roles.
In 2015-16, all eight senior director of schools salaries combined cost the district a little more than $1 million.
This year, the four new area assistant superintendent positions and four new area director positions cost the district $1.23 million, a 21 percent increase. Oscar Gilson and Joe LaFountaine, who used to make around $120,000 as senior directors, now both make $157,500 as area assistant superintendents of schools.
Karl Logan, Lisa McCall and Korinna Wolfe — all former senior directors — now make 17 percent more as "area directors."
PPS spokesman Esteve said the job duties are different than before for these positions. For example, the area directors are now expected to be in schools providing direct, visible support to principals.
Esteve said the high pay reflects a changed job market and the months of administrative vacancies that plagued the district.
"Hiring in general has become very challenging," Esteve said. "Partly for that reason we've had to make sure we have competitive pay in order to attract or keep the most qualified candidates."
Using this same method of calculating percent change in salaries, teachers in the district this year are making 8.2 percent more than they did in 2015-16. The teachers union got those raises when the school board agreed in February to a heavily praised three-year contract.
With a $295,000 base salary, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero is hardly the most expensive education leader in government. But he is close to the top.
For example, outside of Houston, Texas, a superintendent for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District made an astonishing $406,484 in 2017-18, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Interestingly, Oregon's local-control form of education policy also shows up in salaries. Colt Gill, who leads the Oregon Department of Education, makes far less than Guerrero, $187,000 in base salary annually.
Gov. Kate Brown — who through a quirk of state government pulls double duty as state superintendent of public instruction, Gill's boss — makes an even lower salary, $110,810 per year.
Shasta Kearns Moore
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