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New Study Finds Santa Monica Malibu District Outspends California Public Schools for Employee Pay
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 16, 2016 -- The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) outspent other California public school systems last year by 40 percent, or $10,012 per student, in employee compensation, according to a study released by Transparent California Tuesday.

By comparison, average spending per pupil was $7,239 to pay employees among the 141 public school districts surveyed, said analysts from the watchdog group, part of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. The study is based on 2015 payrolls.

Payroll data also shows that salaries for teachers, administrators and even a custodian and carpenter far exceed Santa Monica’s median household income of $74,534 reported by the U.S. Census.

Before leaving Palm Springs public schools on July 1, former SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon earned $244,038 in salary and received another $39,990 in such benefits as health care, the payrolls collected by California Transparency found.

She was replaced by Ben Drati as superintendent at the school board’s November 3 meeting ("Drati Appointed Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Superintendent," November 4, 2016).

The highest-paid teacher at SMMUSD in 2015 earned $124,584, the payroll showed, with benefits worth another $18,390.

But of the estimated 500 teachers who were earning at least the minimum guaranteed in union contracts, 339 -- or almost 68 percent -- earned more than Santa Monica’s median household income, the data showed.

Benefit packages increased total compensation by about a quarter or more in many cases, the payroll data showed.

SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker said the district has not seen Transparent California’s numbers, but the school board and management team will review them as it continues budgeting for the 2017-2018 school year.

"The budgeting process includes a thorough review of all revenue and expense, including compensation, and we also look at how we compare to our other school districts in the area around our size,” Pinsker said

“The numbers you report could have to do with SMMUSD having smaller class sizes, to offering more in the way of visual and performing arts classes, or other instructional programs that are important to the local communities we serve,” Pinsker said.

As with other school districts, compensation for employees represented the biggest expense for SMMUSD, which listed 2,933 employees on its payroll, although a large number were not earners or only worked on an extremely limited basis.

SMMUSD’s general fund budget totals about $171 million, including a 10 percent increase in district-paid health care benefits, raises for teachers and other employees and a projected fund balance of nearly $21 million ("Santa Monica Malibu School Board to Consider $171 Million Budget," June 22, 2016).

As with other public schools in California, most of SMMUSD’s funding is from the state, primarily through the Local Control Funding Formula adopted by California in 2013.

Enrollment remains flat, at around 11,003 students.

According to the current salary schedule for certified teachers and counselors at SMMUSD, those at the first step earn a base pay of $49,858 for a 184-day work year, or about $271 a day.

At the 18th step, those in the bargaining unit earn $100, 227 for their work year, or $544.72 a day. The rates went into effect in July.

Santa Monica’s median household income is $74,534. Transparent California’s database showed 471 district employees made more than the household median on their salaries alone. Most were administrators or teachers,

One custodian who made the list earned $75,889 in pay, and a carpenter earned $76,023 in total pay.

The top-ten highest earners were Central Office administrators, as well as a high school principal. Their salaries totaled $1,540,745, the payroll showed. Benefit packages totaled $259,081, according to the data.

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