When Superintendent Ken Haptonstall announced in January his plans to shake up School District 51's administration, he offered a vision that would hasten the rollout of a new learning model and get more top-level administrators working directly in schools.
At Haptonstall's first public presentation about the reorganization on Jan. 9, he told the Board of Education the proposed changes should save the school district money.
"There should be significant cost savings out of this," he said in a presentation that was also sent to District 51 employees. "The total savings is dependent on who is hired, so what I'm going to do is wait until we get everyone hired in April and then I'll let you know exactly how much this saves."
In an interview minutes after the announcement, Haptonstall said there would be fewer people in administration overall.
Six months later, the opposite is true.
A Daily Sentinel review of school district data and public records found that the administrative shake-up orchestrated by the superintendent has added staff to the top ranks of the administration. Haptonstall also arranged administrative pay raises that, on average, far exceed salary raises for teachers that were approved during negotiations with the teachers' union earlier this summer.
The net result will cost taxpayers $1.2 million extra in salaries for those top leadership positions in the 2018-19 school year compared to 2017-18. The total amount in salaries for those 68 positions will increase from $4.9 million to $6.1 million, a nearly 25 percent jump.
In an interview last week, Haptonstall acknowledged the overhaul will cost the district money, not provide savings. But he maintained the structural changes and administrative salary hikes will improve schools and helped hire and retain qualified and effective district leaders.
BY THE NUMBERS
To evaluate changes at the district's top levels, The Daily Sentinel looked at administrative positions with leadership titles such as coordinator, director, assistant coordinator, assistant director, executive director, manager, supervisor, superintendent and chief operations officer.
Of the more than 400 positions based in four administration buildings, there were 68 leadership positions hired for the 2018-19 school year, an increase of nine positions over last year.
Of the 68 leadership positions for the next school year, 43 have the same title as last year. Salary raises for those positions range from 0.2 percent to 30 percent, with nearly three-quarters of administrators seeing a raise of 5 percent or higher.
By comparison, District 51's 1,251 classroom teachers will receive a 3.6 percent raise this year.
Haptonstall also boosted salary schedules for top administrative positions, which increases a job's earning potential — people can make more money than they could before.
Most positions saw an 11 or 12 percent hike — $6,000 to $10,000 — on the salary schedule. A few positions saw salary schedule increases of more than 20 percent, such as the chief operations officer, which saw increases ranging from 15 to 26 percent — approximately $20,000.
Changes to teachers' salary schedules ranged from 6 to 9 percent. Principals and assistant principals saw salary schedule increases of 3 to 4 percent.
The adjustments also include two to four extra days of work that were eliminated during budget cuts and added back this year.
While Haptonstall said he knows there's a community concern over the district's fiscal responsibility, he stands by his decision to grow the administration and increase salaries as a way to make School District 51 a more competitive organization that can hire high-quality leaders who will help schools, teachers and students improve.
"I said that I hoped we would have some savings and I wasn't sure at that point," Haptonstall said. "I think if we just looked at positions that went away and things that came back, it would be pretty close. But when we start looking at raises, it cost us more than where we were last year for sure."
Raises for all staff members were possible this year because of a $10 million increase in revenue from the state Legislature. The money came from a decrease in the "negative factor" or "budget stabilization factor," or the amount by which state legislators underfund Colorado school districts in order to balance the budget.
HAPTONSTALL: MARKET ADJUSTMENT
The main factor in raising administrative salaries was that District 51 salaries couldn't attract qualified candidates, according to Haptonstall.
Reviewing salaries started in the middle of the reorganization.
"When we started comparing salaries against other systems and other people coming in, we were going to be paying significantly lower," Haptonstall said. "We needed to adjust that. So it wasn't a matter necessarily of the individual, it's more about the position and that we were completely out of market."
Haptonstall said he called other school district superintendents across Colorado, from Delta and Montrose to Cherry Creek and Douglas County, to ask them what they were paying for certain positions.
"There were certain positions that we looked at and we just had to adjust to get us into a market where we could get people here to work," Haptonstall said. "Otherwise we wouldn't be able to do that."
Salary schedules were adjusted based on market studies conducted by the district's human resources department.
Haptonstall said he knows that the community wants the school district to be wise with its money, and he is willing to defend the decisions to raise salaries in order to recruit qualified leaders.
"You're always going to have people with a knee-jerk reaction of, 'Why would it be that much?' That's the nature of the beast, we get that," Haptonstall said. "I would venture to say that there are executives and institutions in this valley who make a lot more than people in my world make, including CMU (Colorado Mesa University) and other places. I think we need to have the best and brightest working here in K-12, even more than higher ed."
BOARD MEMBERS WHO SIGNED OFF REACT
District 51's Board of Education had a range of reactions to data about administrative salary increases, from surprise to support for Haptonstall's decision.
Board Vice President Paul Pitton said while the board was aware that the district had done a market analysis and wanted to offer competitive salaries in the reorganization, board members did not look at specific raises.
"We really didn't have a chance to look at and discuss with them the magnitude of the salary schedules," Pitton said. "As board members we've also gotten to a point where with the magnitude of the district we're not aware of everything that's always going on."
The board was presented with the market adjustments for salaries at a 7 a.m. public meeting on April 24 at the Administrative Services Center and board members were also emailed the information, according to district spokeswoman Emily Shockley.
Pitton and board member John Williams said they were surprised at the size of some salary increases and said large salary increases could have been implemented over several years instead of all at once.
"We're also trying to bring teachers up to market value, so to me they should be moving ahead at the same time, not one moving up faster," Pitton said.
Williams said he supports competitive salaries for administrators, but it's a "difficult subject."
"We have some superb administrative staff and I think the reorganization is really directed toward supporting teachers in schools," Williams said. "It's hard to criticize what people are paid for doing hard work, but we also want to pay teachers a whole lot more."
Board President Tom Parrish said administrative salaries have needed a boost since before Haptonstall was hired.
"We knew back then that we were having a really difficult time attracting administrators to our district," he said. "I always have concerns about how we spend dollars, in the same breath I have concerns that we can't move forward as a district if we can't get quality people to do the jobs we need them to do."
Board member Doug Levinson said he and his fellow board members are trusting Haptonstall to make the right call on setting salaries.
"What you get is what you pay for," Levinson said. "If you have a person in the position and they're not doing a good job, whatever they make, it is a loss. The broader thing is, are we getting value in any position for what we're paying as a system?"
Board member Amy Davis said it's the board's responsibility to see how the reorganization pans out.
"I would like to see how improved leadership impacts individual schools," Davis said. "Does it lead to better results overall? I think we're all hoping it does."
Levinson said he's concerned about how the public might perceive administrative salary increases that are higher than teacher raises.
"I think the initial optics are going to cause people to step back, and that's where the explanation at the district level has to be very clear about why those things look the way they do," he said. "These folks are going to be embedded in school buildings and much more involved and active in what's going on in our system than what was happening previously."
Pitton said he expected high accountability for administrators.
"These people who have been moved up to market value are going to be held accountable and watched to see that their performance has a significant impact on student performance," he said.
MORE ACTIVE ROLES FOR ADMINISTRATORS PROMISED
While the effectiveness of District 51's leadership changes is yet to be tested, Haptonstall said he's excited for how it will impact schools.
"I really do believe we're going to make some big gains this year in terms of classrooms and student learning," he said.
A key aspect of Haptonstall's reorganization is getting administrators out of their offices and into schools and classrooms.
Haptonstall wants administrative jobs to flip, so instead of spending 80 percent of their time on administrative duties and 20 percent of their time in schools, they are spending 80 percent of their time in schools and 20 percent of their time in their offices.
Teachers and students should notice that there are more administrators in their buildings, Haptonstall said.
"They're going to see more folks in there working with teachers around lesson design, around how to personalize lessons for kids and how to bring more resources and support to kids," he said.
R-5 High School teacher Al Kreinberg said he noticed more administrators in classrooms and hallways as school was winding down in May.
"So far I've seen administrators in my building a lot more often and they're helping with concrete things and giving us support to implement the big initiatives," Kreinberg said.
If the reorganization and resulting pay raises lead to higher performance and accountability, Kreinberg said, they would be worth it.
"There's a lot more pressure being put on them to produce," he said. "There was a time when there was a good ol' boy network when people sat in their offices and didn't take risks and deflected lack of results and were able to insulate themselves from the consequences."
That seems to be changing, Kreinberg said.
"I'm withholding my judgment to see if they are going to continue to be out there and help us with the big initiatives. If they don't, I would expect those people to be held accountable," he said.
Parrish said he and the school board want feedback from teachers and principals about whether they feel supported by district administrators.
"You can't equate what we've done in the past and what we've done in the future in terms of job responsibilities," Parrish said. "I think from a 30,000-foot view, that's how I see what's going on. On the surface when you see those double-digit raises, that's not going to look good to anybody, but with the explanation I get it and I understand what's trying to be done."