TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — Before the sun and the school bell, Oktaha superintendent Jerry Needham is often already at work.
It’s a job he’s held for more than 30 years. Like many long-time educators, he’s seen his budget shrink over time. As he tries to do more with less each year, he knows there’s one common criticism that comes with his job title.
“Get rid of the superintendent,” said Needham.
He’s paid around $30,000 a year because he’s officially retired. He’s one of the lowest paid superintendents in the state, but that wasn’t always the case.
“It doesn’t hurt me to give a little back,” said Needham. “When they don’t want me to do it, someone needs to tell me.”
Before he retired, Needham made around $130,000 a year as superintendent. That figure includes benefits.
“If they didn’t feel they weren’t getting their monies worth out of that, I wouldn’t be here because that wouldn’t have been acceptable,” said Needham.
“Our pyramid goes, we’re top heavy and we go down. It should be the other way around,” said Ronda Villamont-Smith.
Villamont-Smith is the co-founder of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite. She said people aren’t often aware of how much their superintendent and other administrators within their local school district are making. The salaries are OK'd by school board members in meetings that not many people go to.
“[Our] frustration is that the school boards are the ones paying these abhorrent salaries,” said Villamont-Smith.
Last fiscal year, Project Oklahoma found out that superintendents were paid around $54 million. That’s not including benefits. The average salary for a superintendent was around $81,000.
“Most superintendents do pull six figures,” said Needham.
He said, even when he was making more money, his administrative costs are much smaller than other larger districts because he takes on a lot of other duties.
“In a school this size, the superintendent is your director of child nutrition, director of personnel, transportation, grounds and maintenance, payroll, human resources... I could go on and on,” said Needham. “I’m not mopping the cafeteria, but if it doesn’t get mopped that’s my problem.”
Villamont-Smith agreed with Needham and said the first-place people should look to save money in larger school districts across the state.
“We’re way too heavy in administrative costs; our focus hasn’t been enough on classroom education,” said Villamont-Smith.
However, both say if people are concerned about salaries and spending, there’s one easy way to fix it.
“Our system is set up where if the people of that community are not, don’t agree with that, there’s a board election every year. Doesn’t matter what school you’re in, there’s an election for a board seat every year,” said Needham.