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2 Investigators, BGA: Superintendent Salaries Costing Taxpayers

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(CBS) — Most people would agree that a child’s education is priceless, but how much is too much to pay school superintendents?

Some downstate schools are actually combining to cut administrative costs, but the Better Government Association and the 2 Investigators found suburban Cook County schools are bucking that trend and that’s costing all of us.

62 percent of our property taxes go to funding public education and that helps some school superintendents make the big bucks.

“Our schools in suburban Cook County have among the highest administrative costs in the country, more than twice the national average and a big part of that is these very, very high superintendent salaries,” said Better Government Association President and CEO Andy Shaw.

A Better Government Association review of pay records revealed some big numbers for the base salaries of Cook County suburban superintendents.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A SPREADSHEET OF SUBURBAN SUPERINTENDENT SALARIES

At Park Forest District 163, a predominately low income school district, Superintendent Joyce Carmine, makes $311,307 running six elementary schools with about 1,900 students. Carmine defends her salary citing her experience and student successes on state testing and reading scores. In an email she noted that she is “the CEO of a $27.5 million organization” adding “I am pleased the board and school community remain confident in my leadership.”

At Northbrook Glenview Dist. 30, Superintendent Edward Tivador makes $315,616 operating three elementary schools with roughly 1,100 students. Tivador did not return our phone calls.

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

Better Government Association logo. (Credit: BGA)

And at New Trier District 203, with two high schools and about 4,000 students, Superintendent Linda Yonke makes a base salary of $317,311. Yonke pointed out that when you factor in various perks and bonuses other superintendents get, they make more than she does.

“Our administrative costs are relatively low,” she said.

She’s right when it comes to Skokie School District 68 Superintendent Frances McTague. Her base salary is $243,554, plus she gets a bonus of $76,333 this year, giving her a total salary of $319,887 — one of the highest in Cook County.

“These suburban superintendents in many cases make more money than the superintendent in Chicago who manages 600 schools and 400,000 kids,” said Shaw.

Chicago School superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett earns $250,000 a year.

The Better Government Association review of payroll data also found 29 school districts that only have one school in them — like the Argo School District in Summit where Superintendent Kevin O’Mara makes $257,500 a year.

O’Mara declined to talk about his salary but said, “I think Argo is a wonderful school district that fits the needs of the kids that reside in its boundaries.”

At other single school districts like Homewood-Flossmoor district 233 Superintendent Von Mansfield makes $260,434. Mansfield did not return our phone calls.

And at Evanston Township school district 202, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon makes $255,247. Plus Evanston Township School District 202 has two assistant superintendents, four Deans and three associate principals, bringing the top administrative payroll to more than $1.4 million. Witherspoon did not return our phone calls either, but the mother of one of his students had plenty to say.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re not with other schools to save money and expenses on administrative costs,” said Debbie Bauer.

Since the early 1980’s, the number of school districts state-wide has been cut by nearly 150, compared to one in Cook County 24 years ago.

“The rest of the state is combining and consolidating school districts,” Shaw said. “Cook County is on a different planet right now. They are ignoring this mandate to pay attention to this and it’s outrageous.”

Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon led a commission that drafted a plan to consolidate some of the state’s 860 school districts. It would mean combining several districts and sharing services to reduce costs and some legislation suggested in the commission report has passed, removing hurdles that complicated consolidation efforts.

“The bottom line is we want school dollars to be used wisely,” Simon said. “We want them to get to learning and sometimes the administrative structure of school districts can stand in the way,” said Simon.

The report found that if all recommendations were followed the state could save as much as a billion dollars.

“A billion dollars in savings is not pie in the sky,” Simon said. “It’s achievable. It’s based on what Ohio has done in their school districts. We can do that here if we’re smart about how we’re spending our money.”

If you want to see how much a superintendent in Cook County is making check out the spreadsheet here.

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