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...In Her Own Words, Tulsa Superintendent Explains Administrative Salary Increases

KWGS News File Photo
Tulsa School Superintendent Deborah Gist released a statement explaining the administrative pay raises in the Tulsa District, at a time when teacher salaries are flat. "It is hard to see folks feel upset about a story regarding Tulsa Public Schools especially when I can see that there is quite a bit of misunderstanding about it. We recently began implementing an important and extensive restructuring of our district office that was approved several weeks ago as a part of our budget cuts. This restructuring eliminated or defunded 175 positions and created 73 new or re-scoped positions for a net reduction of 102 positions. This net reduction represents a 10 percent cut to the district office staffing. More importantly, it allowed us to capture $2.7 million in state aid savings—that’s nearly $3 million that we used to offset cuts from the state to protect our schools from those cuts. In addition, our district office cuts resulted in an additional savings of $1 million in federal funds—money that is being reallocated to our schools and can now be used for classroom support and/or teaching positions. I am not surprised that district office hiring to implement the restructuring is being met with healthy debate. Generally people don’t like the idea of central office functions (of districts or companies or any organization). I understand that sentiment with the underlying belief being that our resources must go into our classrooms, and the vast majority of ours do. At the same time, our district needs a wide variety of supports and personnel to run efficiently and effectively for our students and teachers. Among the feedback I’ve gotten from teachers over the last year is that we need to improve the quality of our supports, tools and services to teachers and schools. The reorganization of the Tulsa Public Schools district office, including the creation of some new and re-scoped positions, is critical to advancing the district’s strategic priorities, improving service, and saving the district money. None of the employees in the story who moved into new or re-scoped positions were given raises for their current work. They applied for and received positions for which they are qualified with salaries commensurate to different roles and responsibilities. In some cases, those were lateral changes, a few were lower in salary, and some were higher. These positions in some cases collapsed two or more supervisory responsibilities and in other cases are completely new roles with responsibilities different than the ones previously held. Other positions went from 10 month to 12 month schedules. Our human capital office determines salary ranges using several industry-recognized mechanisms, so it is important to know that position descriptions and salary structures are not just arbitrarily set. As with any other potential job candidates, internal staff were required to submit an application and interview with team leaders and human capital. The district office exists to serve Tulsa teachers and students, and this includes critical work such as curriculum development and support, guidance and coaching for instructional leadership, continuing education opportunities for teachers, maintenance of facilities and grounds, campus safety and security, and transportation. We also have highly-specialized staff who hold key leadership roles such as the executive director of educator effectiveness and professional learning who leads our professional development support for teachers and school leaders and manages implementation of teacher and leader evaluation, or the data and analytics staff who analyze district data to increase student achievement and organizational performance, or our general counsel who manages the many legal questions, concerns, and actions that come up in the operations of a district with 40,000 students and nearly 7,000 employees. The general counsel position, as an example, is a new one and is designed to save the district funding from its current contract with a legal firm that costs the district more than $1 million a year. As superintendent, I have to make tough and sometimes controversial decisions, and I promise that there will always be a purpose behind these decisions. Many of you have reached out to me with questions and concerns around these positions or so-called “raises”, and I wanted to be clear with you that this is the implementation of our planned district office cuts and reorganization of the team that serves our schools. There is another sentiment I’ve heard during this discussion that is super important—our teacher salaries. Let me be clear, the teacher salaries in Oklahoma are inexcusable. While Tulsa Public Schools pays above the state salary schedules, we still pay our teachers a completely unacceptable salary for the professionals they are. Our teachers deserve to be paid as the invaluable, committed, and talented professionals that they are, and we need to invest in our future by supporting the men and women who give so much to our children. Our school principals and assistant principals, by the way, are also not paid an appropriate salary for their work. I can understand why a conversation about the salaries of the reorganized district office team would raise this issue. It makes sense. For that matter, every single conversation that we have in our state should raise this issue. Education affects everything—quality of life, our economy, healthcare, public safety, and more. The quality of our education system is directly affected by our classroom teachers, and we are hurting not only our children but also ourselves by not paying our teachers appropriately. Unfortunately, any district office structure or elimination of district office positions or lower salaries of district office team members would not solve this problem. It wouldn’t even make a dent. It has to be addressed at the state level by either a change to our state funding for teacher salaries or by allowing local communities to make those changes independently of the state. I will continue to fight like crazy for our teachers. Thank you for your unwavering support of our teachers, students, and families - education is a team effort, and we are fortunate that Tulsa stands behind its educators. I appreciate you reading this and hope that it provides you with some additional context for this situation. Wishing you and your families a safe and happy 4th of July. I know you appreciate our country and our freedom like I do. Let’s continue to demonstrate our gratitude and exercising it by advocating and voting! All my best, Deborah"