John Halase is a frequent contributor to the West Chester Tea Party and since he attends many school board meetings for the Lakota School System, and has a technical background, he is the perfect candidate to take some of the obscure fiscal information dressed up in the legalism of education terms and explain them in a way everyone can understand. John is one of the most neutral human beings I know. His only goal is fairness, but a firm understanding of the facts involved in any particular situation. This can be seen clearly in his presentation of August 16, 2011 to a crowd of approximately 200 to 300 people eager to understand why Lakota has placed another levy on the ballot. Central to this new discussion was the new superintendent Karen Mantia and the justification of the one-quarter of a million dollar annual cost she is to the district.
My argument when it comes to costs, which dictate to the tax payers whether or not more funding is needed to fund a school is how much is the public supplying, and if it’s sufficient, then why is there still a requirement for more funds. If the revenue is insufficient, then what criterion determines the level of funding? Well, that answer is what the community can afford, and that is determined in a vote. If the people of the district vote no, then it is the school boards job to go back and trim the budget to the level of revenue that the tax payers approved. It’s that simple.
But how it is currently is a ridiculous situation. If the community votes no, then the district just puts the issue on the ballot. Most school boards do as Lakota did, and that’s drop some staff through attrition, cut small costs like busing and sports programs because it punishes the people for voting no, and they’ll keep putting it on the ballot however many times it takes till it passes. That is a foolish business model. Lakota is on its third attempt in a two-year period, and Little Miami is on their 9th over a four-year period. Most of the schools in Southern Ohio can tell a similar story.
That’s why it becomes necessary to look at just what the costs at a school like Lakota are, what they are spending their money on. Lakota has a total of 1,976 employees at an average wage of over $62,000 per year. 600 of those employees make over $65,000 per year. Of that employee matrix there are 1,192 teachers, 712 support staff, and 72 administrators serving 18,458 students. In 2010, Lakota brought in $157 million and it spent $167 million.
Now to regulate those costs, which were obviously at a deficit even though the revenue coming in is over 150 million dollars, which is nothing to balk at; it is the job of the superintendent to manage those costs. I keep hearing that it is the superintendent, who often makes over six figures and deserves to be paid like a CEO at a corporation, should be paid so much money because as in the case of Karen Mantia, she is responsible for over 24 buildings and 2000 employees with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. Ok, fine, but with all that responsibility I see a trend with these superintendents where they don’t behave like CEO’s at all. They behave like spoiled union workers where there’s never enough money coming in, and that’s the big difference.
Karen Mantia is no different. She started off as a teacher at Northmont City High School where she worked for 24 years as a law/economics and government history teacher. While there she was a principal, Director of Curriculum, then Assistant Superintendent. She took a job at Sycamore Community Schools as Superintendent from 2000 to 2006 for 100K per year overseeing 5,710 students. In 2006 she retired when she turned 55. She then took a job at Piqua City Schools double dipping from her retirement at Sycamore while making 117K per year managing 3,750 students. She wasn’t at Piqua long, because by 2007 she took the Superintendent position at Pickerington School District making $144,000 managing 10,500 students. It was from this position that Lakota spent $42,266 to recruit Mantia from her Pickerington position where Lakota paid her $165,000 to manage 18,458 students.
Mantia’s contract pays her a base salary of $165,000 a year plus an annual deferred compensation of a $30,000 annuity. She gets an annual performance award, retirement contribution and STRS Membership “pickups,” health and dental along with vision insurance, “known as a Cadillac plan,” Life insurance based on 2.5X her base plus annuity. She is required to work 227 days a year, she gets 23 vacation days, 15 sick days in addition to 3 personal days during that span of time. She also gets all the administrator paid holidays. She is also paid for any professional membership meeting expenses. The over-all cost of Superintendent Mantia is one quarter of a million dollars, ($165 + $30K + $61K (31.7% benefits) per year. Mantia also has a severance package that is 3 years her base salary plus annuity up to the 5 years or less remaining on her contract for contract termination.
Now, to me, those are wonderful benefits. I think it is extremely generous. And what I expect a person so well compensated to do is to manage the district costs like a CEO, because she is currently paid higher than the Governor of Ohio.
But already, the indications are that she will provide a “business as usual” approach. On her first meeting as a superintendent, was the meeting where the school board voted to go for yet another school levy this November. So why?
The problem is, Mantia like all the other superintendents come from a teaching background and seem to be sympathetic to the union. In Ohio, because by law every teacher must be in a union and as a teacher Mantia was a union member, and she will not choose to take a hard-line against union demands, because it is because of those union demands in the past that she is able to receive the tremendous benefits she has received at Lakota. This is the big difference between superintendents and CEO’s. Mantia is a functionary and not making hard decisions about labor costs and management of them. Her primary function is that of a politician, not a cost reducer. Her job is to secure more revenue from the community, and make cosmetic cuts to convince the tax payers that they are doing everything to reduce costs, when in reality she is protecting the integrity of the union contracts which just continue to grow without any mechanism at reduction, which is needed.
If a superintendent could promise the community that the revenue needed by the district could decrease year after year, and at a certain point when we realize that we’ve minimized staff, wages, and contracts to a level that actually jeopardizes an excellent school, it is only then that any tax increase should be explored. But with education currently it is perceived that every year an education budget will increase and that just isn’t going to work as a long-term sustainable model. That is the reason why there is so much fuss about what Mantia makes as far as compensation. The education industry sells the superintendent position as a CEO, and in comparison to other CEO’s she holds a “lame duck, powerless” position that is carefully regulated by union contracts. It would be the CEO’s job to operate the corporation at a profit, which would be met with an increase in sales, and a decrease in costs. With a school superintendent, they are regulated to only dealing with 20% of the costs that are not covered by a union contract which means they cannot control their costs, and can only ask for more revenue in the form of taxes to cover the disparity. That is why such high compensation for administrators in education positions are considered too high, and why Lakota should have looked for a superintendent that was much, much cheaper.