Sunday focus: Administration, support positions make up majority of staff in school district

Published 1:25 am Sunday, October 29, 2017


NATCHEZ — Only 43 percent of the Natchez-Adams School District 607 employees are teachers or permanent substitutes.

The other 57 percent is composed primarily of support and non-instructional staff and administration.

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The disparity between instructional and non-instructional staff has caused some residents in the community to ask questions.

The Natchez-Adams School District employs 607 men and women; annual expenditures for their salaries in the 2016-2017 school year cost the district a total of $19,905,038.

Of these salaried positions, 244 are certified teachers and 15 more are permanent substitutes, constituting approximately 43 percent of total hires.

This sector of employees — non-teaching hires — has continued to grow even as the district has lost nearly a quarter of its students in the past decade.

Click here for a list of the Natchez-Adams School District’s 2016-2017 salaries for administration staff

Click here for a list of the Natchez-Adams School District’s 2016-2017 salaries for teachers

Click here for a list of the Natchez-Adams School District’s 2016-2017 salaries for support staff

Marcia McCullough and members of the Natchez-Adams County Tax Association to wonder why the funds for those non-teaching salaries were not instead spent on instruction.

“As a former teacher, I am very concerned that such a large portion of the district’s funds are being paid to so many administrators and support staff rather than to certified classroom teachers, reading specialists,” McCullough said.

Zandra McDonald, deputy superintendent for the district, said an internal coding process can be deceiving when considering administrative positions.

In salary reports received from a Freedom of Information request made to the school district by a group of concerned citizens, 129 positions are considered as administrative.

McDonald said the administrative classification only means the employee works more than 187 days in a year, not that the person employed is an actual administrator.

Regardless of administrative designation, however, the number of non-teaching employees far outnumbers instructional hires.

More concerning, McCullough said, is that many of these administrative and support staff positions are paid more than the base salary for teachers.

Teacher’s salaries are set by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which cites a base level certified salary with no experience as $34,390.

As the teacher gains experience through years of employment, he or she receives scheduled pay raises.

The average salary for a teacher is $43,920; the average for a permanent substitute is $20,066.

Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education, said no similar schedule exists for administrative and support staff regulated by the state.

Instead, these salaries are dictated by each school district.

Eight non-teaching positions in the Natchez-Adams School District receive a higher average salary than teachers in the school district. Among them are warehouse clerks and couriers, speech pathologists and counselors.

Currently, several maintenance workers, secretary and clerical workers, bookkeepers, clerks and administrative assistants are paid well over the base teacher salary.

For example, the highest paid warehouse clerk/courier was paid $50,929, the highest paid administrative assistant was paid $48,647 and the highest paid technology support staff member was paid $55,929.

At the top of the salary list for 2016-2017 were Special Services Director Ruby As-Sabor who was paid $88,848.28, District Superintendent Fred Butcher who was paid $84,000, High School Principal Tony Fields who was paid $82,000 and Substitute Teacher Coordinator Pasty Smith who was paid $79,139.

The salary listed for Butcher is based on the eight months he officially served as superintendent. The annual salary for Butcher is $126,000. Similarly, McDonald was only paid for the nine months she officially served as deputy superintendent. Her annual salary is $94,000.

All principals in the district are paid $75,000, with the exception of Natchez High School, the principal of which is paid $82,000.

McDonald said the previous superintendent implemented the set salary for principals in order to “attract and retain” school-level administrators to the area. These positions have no annual increase schedule.

“I believe that a good bit of administrative overhead can and should be reduced so that our district can spend what is saved on recruiting, retaining and incentivizing our teachers,” McCullough said.

Looking at these numbers in isolation, McDonald said, does not tell the full story.

McDonald said salaries slated for non-instructional staff are based off of years of experience, certification, number of contractual days and responsibility factor.

“So, you may have a support employee who has 30-plus years of experience and who is a certified skilled worker (i.e. electrician, carpenter) who has a salary equal to that of a beginning year teacher,” McDonald said.  “So, the salary alone does not indicate that there is a comparison.”

McCullough, however, said she believed the disproportionate value placed in support service and non-instructional roles makes it difficult to confidently say what the district values.

“The way the money is being spent now makes you wonder what the school board values the most,” she said. “It makes us concerned about where their true focus is. Is it in educating the students or (elsewhere)?”

McDonald said the salary differences are explained by experience and education of individuals. She said a support employee who has worked for the district for 35 years may earn the same salary as a certified teacher who has worked fewer than five, but that the similar salaries have no bearing on the value the district places in teachers.

“Natchez-Adams School District values all of its employees,” she said. “We celebrate and acknowledge the pivotal role that our teachers have in the lives and success of our students.”

McDonald did, however, agree that the Mississippi teacher salary “lags behind” the region and nation.

“State legislatures have allocated small raises in teacher salaries over the last decade,” she said, “but we welcome a legislative session where the money allocated for educators reflects their service to our children, their professional expertise and address the increasing shortage of certified teachers for our state.”