As Alton shrinks, school district administrator salaries grow

As Alton shrinks, school district administrator salaries grow

More than half of local school district administrators earn more than $100,000, and those incomes will get a boost after a recent board decision.

In spite of the city’s shrinking population, Alton school board officials have approved a second series of pay raises for Alton Community Unit School District 11 employees in less than two months.

Following a set of salary increases included in an Alton teachers’ contract struck April 20, the board reconvened May 15 to approve pay raises for three categories of non-instructional employees for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years, according to the Alton Telegraph.

District administrators will receive a flat salary spike of $1,600 for both forthcoming school years.

For schoolteachers who perform additional duties in extracurricular roles – sports coaches, band leaders and so forth – those supplemental positions were granted a 3 percent raise for the 2017-2018 school year, followed by a 3.5 percent raise for the 2018-2019 school year.

Finally, the district’s nine non-certified employees were awarded a 50 cent increase to their hourly rate over the next two school years.

$100K administrator incomes

District superintendent Mark Cappel noted that each of these pay increases were lower than what instructors received in April. But the disparity between the earnings of some administrators and that of typical Alton taxpayers might call into question whether salary increases for such officials are appropriate in the first place.

Many Alton school district employees are already compensated far beyond that of district taxpayers who subsidize those incomes. The median household income in Alton is just over $37,100, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Meanwhile, district records show more than half of school district administrators earning six-figure incomes. In fiscal year 2017, 21 of the district’s 36 administrators earned more than $100,000, when factoring in benefits. Before taking benefits into account, seven administrators earned a base salary upwards of $100,000.

Notably, Cappel excluded himself from the salary spike other administrators received. Explaining that he omitted a pay increase from his own contract, the superintendent said, “I felt that I did not need a raise over the next three years,” according to the Telegraph.

Cappel’s decision to forego a pay increase might be welcomed by Alton residents, a city in which 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to Census data. But it isn’t the earnings of just one official that puts Alton taxpayers in a bind.

Shrinking tax base, growing costs

Alton saw its population shrink by more than 1,100 residents from 2010 to 2017, a decline of 4.2 percent. That stands among the 10 worst declines in the state among cities with more than 20,000 residents. In keeping with statewide trends, much of municipality’s shrinking tax base can be attributed to people moving out. Madison County, in which Alton is located, lost more than 7,100 people to other counties on net from 2010 to 2017.

As the population shrinks, the pressure to pay for excessive public-worker salaries grows on taxpayers who remain in Alton.

And according to the district’s annual financial report for fiscal year 2017, the district ended the fiscal year with an operating deficit of more than $3 million. In fact, the state currently requires the district to participate in a deficit reduction plan. Pay hikes in the face of these deficits aren’t encouraging for taxpayers in need of relief.

A path toward relief

Alton school officials have recently promised residents property tax relief, contingent upon the success of Schools Facility Sales Tax referenda put forth by Madison County. But taxpayers are already tapped out on tax hikes, as evidenced by voters having rejected the proposal three times in a row.

Municipalities should be able to offer residents property tax relief without hiking other taxes. Unfortunately, costly mandates imposed by Springfield limit flexibility in cities like Alton. This includes the out-of-proportion bargaining power of government worker unions in Illinois, which leaves taxpayers without an effective voice in contract negotiations.

There are a host of reforms state lawmakers could explore to ease Illinoisans’ property tax burden, including bringing collective bargaining power in line with Illinois’ neighboring states.

Now that property tax bills have started arriving in residents’ mailboxes following Memorial Day weekend, Alton taxpayers should be reminded which fiscal path the status quo has in store.

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