In Lawrence schools, admin pay grew faster than teachers’ for years. Recent raises have started reversing the trend.

Share this post or save for later

Note: This story is part two of a series using data to evaluate Lawrence Public Schools enrollment, staff pay and budgets. The Times examined hundreds of Kansas Department of Education budget documents from school districts across Kansas. Read more from the series at this link.

For four years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the gap between administrators’ salaries and teachers’ salaries in Lawrence Public Schools grew bigger and bigger.

The district implemented flat percentage raises that boosted the already-larger administrator salaries to higher and higher levels than teachers’.

Advertisement

But since the pandemic, that trend has reversed. Decreases and smaller raises in administrative pay coupled with raises for teachers have begun to reverse the pay trends between the two staff groups as teachers see their salaries increase at a faster rate than administrators.  

“There was always, and still is, frustration about the gap between admin and teacher pay,” Lawrence teacher David Reber said. 

David Reber

Reber has taught science in the district since 1996 and was a part of the district’s teachers union, the Lawrence Education Association. He served on the negotiations team for a decade in the early 2010s.

During the 2014-15 school year, teachers made 54.9% of the amount administrators did. Five years later, the gap had widened to 51.7%, meaning teachers now made less money compared to administrators on average than they had before. Administrators’ average salaries increased by more than $16,000, while teachers’ salaries rose by just more than $5,000 on average.

“When you are frozen on a salary step or given a couple hundred dollars, then hear rumblings about an increase to a six-figure position, frustration simmers,” LEA president and Lawrence teacher Emerson Hoffzales said. 

However, since the 2020-21 school year, administrative cuts and teacher wage increases started to bridge that gap. By 2022-23, teachers’ pay was the closest to administrators’ that it had been in the past decade, at 58.2%. 

Administrators made $109,860 on average, and teachers made $63,912 on average. A living wage for Douglas County for one adult with no children is currently $41,335; it’s $105,877 for one adult with three children, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculations.

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

District spokesperson Julie Boyle said traditionally, the district has distributed raises at an even percentage across staff groups.

But this even percentage did not mean equal amounts of pay increase. Because administrators already made more than teachers did, the flat percentage raise meant the pay gap between administrators and teachers continued to grow. 

Reber said in his early days on the union bargaining team, the negotiators would gather data on how Lawrence compared to other districts in both pay groups. They found teacher pay was usually far lower than admin pay when compared to other districts in the state. The district would give raises to all staff at an equal amount, which only exacerbated that inequality.

“I guess the district thought this was ‘fair,’” Reber said, “but 2% of $100,000 is a bit bigger number than 2% of $40,000.”

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

Recently, though, the district has raised teacher and classified salaries by a larger percentage than admins’, contributing to the shrinking pay gap.  

“It is a goal of both the board and the administration to improve the salaries of employees at all levels and provide competitive wages to recruit and retain high-quality staff to serve students,” Boyle said.

Hoffzales said the ability of teachers to close the growing pay gap in the last few years was thanks to a united and supportive community, including staff, board members and others passionate about Lawrence education.

Advertisement

They said one moment that helped them see the power of community impact was watching staff stand unified in support of school librarians, who faced a large cut that would have sliced district librarian positions by two-thirds. Public pressure led to much smaller cuts to library staff in the final budget. 

“The board meeting was powerful in showing how unity can not only advocate for our needs, but also can heal our community,” Hoffzales said.

Last year, the district and the LEA ratified a contract that includes raises for teachers across the district. This raise was not included in the data examined for this story, which only included figures through the 2022-23 school year. The raises will continue to shrink the pay disparity between teachers and administrators.

“I believe that they are finally realizing that something must be done in terms of compensation,” Reber said. “While I greatly appreciate the substantial raise we got this year, it really should have happened years ago. Lawrence likes to point to state funding as the culprit, but other districts have paid as much and more for well over 10 years, and they are all funded under the same formula. It really is just a matter of priorities.”

The total amount of the raises was $6.6 million, with 56% going toward certified staff, 39% to classified staff and 5% to administrators. 

If local journalism like this matters to you, please support The Lawrence Times.
Click here to subscribe.

“Contracts keep teacher pay far more stable than anything,” said Lena Batt, a professor at the University of Kansas’ Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. “You can mess with admin salaries, though, and you can fire people. It’s much harder to do that with teachers. So I think that is like, if they have to move something, that’s the variable they can move.”

Spending on administration has been a point of major public debate particularly during the past two years’ budget decisions in Lawrence, with community members and advocacy groups pushing for a decrease in administrator salaries and positions instead of teacher cuts and school closures.

In budget talks ahead of the 2022-23 school year, the Lawrence school board approved cutting 6.5 administrative positions. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said he would not consider cuts to administration during 2023-24 because cuts had been made the year before.

Advertisement

This year, the district reinstated two of the positions that were cut in 2022. Angie West, a parent whose child used to attend Broken Arrow Elementary, said the decision was concerning. 

“I’m concerned they added these back, or the money for administrative-type positions, after the vote to close our schools,” she said.

The district has defended the decision to bring back the positions, saying they were needed to support principals. 

Administrative cuts alone wouldn’t have been able to make up the millions of dollars the district had been aiming to cut the last few years, though they could have been a piece of a comprehensive package of cuts. The school board determined that cuts to other areas, such as school closures and teaching positions, were needed to reach the goal. 

“The board’s decisions over the last few years to close some of its school buildings and reduce staff FTE, while painful, have enabled the board to significantly improve staff salaries and place the district on a path to financial sustainability for the future,” Boyle said. 

As conversations about financial priorities in the district continue amid a shifting enrollment environment, Hoffzales said teachers will continue to rely on the support of this community to make their voices heard.

“The best lesson that I have learned over the years is to lean on the community, whether that is community within Lawrence or with other local associations,” they said. “Our community is filled with educators and students. We have LEA members and staff who live in the community. Their students attend here.”

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.

Want to share your story with The Lawrence Times? Click here to contact us

Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters


Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

More from this series:

In Lawrence schools, admin pay grew faster than teachers’ for years. Recent raises have started reversing the trend.

Share this post or save for later

For four years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the gap between administrators’ salaries and teachers’ salaries in Lawrence Public Schools grew bigger and bigger. That trend has started reversing, but there’s still frustration about the gap.

Latest Lawrence news:

Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

Share this post or save for later

Papaws are found in native woodlands as an understory tree, meaning that they only grow 10-20 feet tall, in the shade of the much taller trees that make up the dominant overstory canopy. Papaw’s chocolate colored blossoms can be found right now, hanging like bells on the branches.

MORE …

Previous Article

Lawrence school district superintendent denounces bill banning gender-affirming care for youths

Next Article

Want more young Kansans to run for office? A coming pay raise in the Statehouse might help