Friday, December 31, 2010

Stipends: Swollen Memberships

(Part 1 of a series)
It is important to note from the start that we recognize the value that memberships in professional organizations and societies offer in terms of networking, resources, and professional development.  But like anything, it must be in good measure.  Maybe you agree it's a concern, maybe you do not; but in  the wake of a serious economic downturn, all stones must be turned to at least evaluate potential savings for the district.  The sheer number and cost of these memberships is mind boggling.  But perhaps what stands out most is that these are intangibles; we can theorize that having these memberships could possibly result in a better district....yet we cannot prove it.  Where are the metrics?  How do we assess the return on our investment?   More to the point....many of these memberships are provided for individuals who are already very well compensated.  At what point does it become too much, and if individuals wish to maintain these memberships, they pony up the membership fee out of their own amply lined pockets.

It's time someone took a look at how many professional memberships we pay for in the district.

Teachers continue to have to supplement their classroom materials out of their own pockets because building budgets have been reduced.  That's just plain wrong.   Get past teacher pay for just a moment and ask yourself:  should ANY employee ANYWHERE have to provide their own materials to do their jobs?  We don't think so.

Interestingly enough, teachers' building budgets have been reduced by about $50,000. That reduction only means that teachers have to dig further into their own pockets to provide classroom materials to teach our kids.   Wanna take a guess at how much we spent in the last 12 months on professional membership dues?  Yup...a little more than $50,000.

General "district-wide" memberships:  24, totalling a bit over $27,000
Individual memberships:  104, totaling a bit under $25,000
Of those individual memberships, 72 (69% of individual memberships) were for the 28.5 FTE administrators, accounting for a bit over $21,000 (86% of individual membership costs).
That's an average of 3 memberships per administrator at a cost of just under $1000 per administrator.

24 of the 29 administrators have at least one membership paid for by the school district.  Two administrators take the prize for most individual memberships, with each having 7 membership dues/fees paid for by the district.

District-wide memberships include 17 different organizations. Individual memberships include 40 separate organizations.  That's a total of 57 memberships!

Memberships may be a good thing...but why are we paying for multiple memberships to the same organization?
The district pays for FOUR (4) SAM's Club memberships:  one each for Nursing, Elementary schools (ES?), and --not one, but --TWO memberships for high school athletics!  While the cost is fairly minimal, why do we need FOUR?  Can't the district purchase just ONE membership?  We purchase a "business" membership, which includes, " one Membership for you and one for a household member over 18 years of age.   Business Members also receive a company card that may be used by an employee for business purchases. "   Hmmm...who gets the second membership?  And since we receive a company card that may be used by an employee for purchases, why the need for more than one membership?

The bottom line is that these costs add up to a non-trivial amount.  There's an old adage that reminds us that 100 "1% costs" add up to 100%.  And these dollars can be put to better use paying for direct educational material costs that are being paid out of teachers' pockets at the moment. And need we remind you of the requirement that each middle schooler supply a ream of paper as part of their 'school supply list'?

Other Questions
  • Do we need pay for 18 separate AWSA [Association of Wisconsin School Administrators] memberships?
  •  Do we need pay for 17 separate Administrator memberships to ASCD [Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development]?
  •  Do we need pay for 9 separate NAESP [ National Association of Elementary School Principals] memberships?  We only have 7 elementary schools!  Why are we paying for membership in an ELEMENTARY school organization for two MIDDLE school administrators?  For the half-time principal of SP4K? 
  •  Do we need to pay for 4 separate NASSP [ National Association of Secondary School Principals] ?
  • Why are we paying for 2 memberships to NCTM  [National Council of Teachers of Mathematics ] for an elementary school principal and  a Staff Development Program Manager?  A math teacher?  Math department head?  Maybe...but two administrators?
Documents we have obtained from the district indicate that most stipends...such as Dr. Culver's $125/month for Dane Co. travel costs and $325/month for "miscellaneous" costs...are paid out along with salary.

So....if we are paying these people a stipend of $1,375-$2,000 per year to cover things such as memberships, why is the district writing so many checks for memberships?  Hmmm?  We didn't see any re-imbursement checks in the Deposit listings to cover these costs Does that mean that, in addition to these memberships, they are paying an additional $1,375 to $2,000 out-of-pocket for others?  Hmmm?  Enquiring minds are interested in knowing.

Wait!  It's all OK.  It's part of an Administrator's Compensation package!
That's right, folks.  It's all above board...right?  After all, the administrators' benefit package (which school board members have voted to approve) includes the following:
C. Professional Development Stipend
1. To promote professional growth each administrator shall be provided with a professional development stipend as follows:
a. $2,000 per year for Building Principals; Assistant and Deputy District  Administrators; and Directors of Student Services or Human Resources.
b. $1,375 per year for all other administrators. 
3. The professional development stipend:
a. Must be related to each administrator’s annual professional growth plan goals;
b. Will not be subtracted from the administrator's operational or building budget;
c. Will be carried over annually, up to a maximum amount of $4,000 per administrator;
d. May be supplemented by funds from the administrator's operational budget;
YIKES! eh?  Not only do they get up to $2,000 per year ON TOP OF THEIR FAT SALARIES...but

  • they get to spend it pretty much anyway they like,
  • they get to carry over and "stockpile" up to $4,000 per year,
  • they can supplement the money from their own personal department budget,
  • and there doesn't appear to be any real oversight.

Is it just us?  Or does anyone else smell at least the potential for shenanigans?

What exactly is a Stipend
(1) a sum of money allotted on a regular basis; usually for some specific purpose

(2)  a fixed or regular amount of money paid as a salary or allowance, as to a clergyman
[ from Latin stīpendium, from stips (a contribution) + pendere (to pay out)]
-- Free dictionary online