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Do local school execs earn too much?

By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Who in California has an annual salary comparable to President Obama? If you guessed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’d be wrong. Linda Katehi, incoming chancellor at UC Davis makes the same amount as Obama, taking home an annual salary of $400,000. As state officials issue IOUs, order additional furlough days in the midst of a budget meltdown, many are questioning the seemingly ever-escalating government salaries, particularly in public education, which makes up a significant portion of the state budget. Although local school districts and universities have yet to learn how the state’s finances will ultimately affect their budgets and students in the upcoming school year, Sierra College President Leo Chavez takes home $223,968, a salary that is scheduled to jump 5 percent next year. Many would argue that his and other Placer County school executives’ salaries are unfair, especially given the current budget crisis. Chavez disagrees. “How do you define fair? In relation to my peers, yes, I feel it’s fair,” Chavez said. “Colleges are interesting. (For example) what does the CEO of a company generating revenue of $100 million with 500 employees make? That’s essentially what I am, so it’s hard to define fair.” Chavez, whose responsibilities include enforcing policies set forth by the state and the school’s board of trustees as well as overseeing the operations of the institution and making public appearances at community events, said he is continually “impressed” by the wide range of tasks that fall under his job title. Isabel Ramirez, a Lincoln resident, has been attending Sierra College full time for the last two years and currently works on campus making $9 an hour. “(Chavez’s salary) is too much. I’ve been here for two years and I don’t know who he is or what he does,” Ramirez said. “Some of (his salary) could be going to lower tuition or financial aid for students.” In an effort to offset reduced state funding, community college students are facing a 30 percent hike in fees, the first rate increase in five years. California State University students will see a 10 percent raise in student fees. Alexander Gonzales, president of Sacramento State University, takes home a base salary of $295,000. Add to that perks like a $12,000 annual car allowance and a $60,000 housing allowance and Gonzales’ total income is closer to $367,000. “Sounds like he’s got his best interests at heart, not the students” said Sacramento State student and Roseville resident Nathan Lemaster. These six- figure salaries aren’t exclusive to higher education institutions as superintendents in the eight Placer County school districts also take home salaries well above $100,000. For example, Roseville Joint Union High School District Superintendent Tony Monetti takes home an annual base salary of $196,766 not including a 3 percent longevity stipend and an $875 monthly travel stipend pushing his income to $213,169. Former Placer Union High School District Superintendent Bart O’Brien received $174,488 with a $600 monthly car allowance and $250 monthly for miscellaneous expenses. Rather than take the district’s health care package, O’Brien opted to include the money in his salary. “How can they even relate to the average working Joe making minimum wage?” said Auburn A-Town Deli & Sandwich Shop owner Kathy DeVries. “I’m not even getting a salary.” DeVries said that due to the economy she’s had to let one of her employees go and has not received a salary for several months to save her business. “Why would I take (money) for myself when it needs to go into my business?” DeVries said. “We cut firemen, police officers and teachers but that’s our future, it doesn’t make sense.” This year, Placer County school districts have cut millions from their budgets in preparation for reduced funding from the state. Many administrators and superintendents at school districts have opted to take furlough days throughout the school year and have frozen their pay. “I would appreciate it if they would come forth and take a pay cut,” DeVries said. “Put that money back into the schools for the kids.” Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Brown volunteered to take a 4 percent pay reduction earlier this year. “Every employee in our school district is going to be affected in some way,” Brown said during a March interview. “Everybody in their own way will feel the impact. It’s my way of saying that I need to share the pain.” Dry Creek Superintendent Mark Geyer was scheduled to receive an increase in his annual salary this year, bumping his base pay from $155,967 to $162,205. Instead, Geyer and his administration have all opted for pay freezes and furlough days to save additional cuts and layoffs in the school districts. “Realistically, we understand that we’re not just frozen for this year. Next year may not be any better,” Geyer said. “Administration voluntarily took a salary freeze to be proactive in saving positions, running efficiently and avoiding class size reductions.” Several days past the July 1 budget deadline, California schools are left wondering what the next school year will bring. “They all need to get their priorities straight,” DeVries said. “I hope they’re proving that they deserve those salaries.”