You can count State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff among those who question how well some charter schools are using your tax dollars. Remember, charter schools receive tax dollars, even if many of them operate like private schools.
Ratliff recently released a survey comparing the salaries of the top 10 highest paid charter school superintendents with those of the top 10 highest paid traditional public school superintendents. According to the Dallas Morning News, the average top 10 charter superintendent salary was $242,172 a year, compared to $323,156 for the average among the 10 highest paid public school superintendents.
To provide perspective, Ratliff noted that the charter superintendents who were surveyed had an average enrollment of 3,037 students, while the average enrollment for the public school superintendents in the survey was 50,555 students. Or, to put it another way, each charter superintendent was paid about $79 per student and each public school superintendent about $6 per student.
“I find it ironic that charter schools were supposed to bring free market principles into the education marketplace, but they are obviously paying way above free market rates for their superintendents,” Ratliff said. “I would also like to point out that these entities are supposed to be non-profit organizations, but at these salary levels, some people are clearly doing quite well.”
Ratliff called on the state education commissioner and the Legislature to do something about the salary disparities.
The charter industry, of course, promptly sent Ratliff a letter, expressing “concern” over his conclusions, claiming, among other things, that many charter schools had a very high efficiency rating, according to the state comptroller.
Ratliff, in turn, said he found the comptroller’s rating system, which lumped charters and traditional public schools together, “skewed” because charters don’t have the same financial responsibilities as traditional public schools.
For one thing, traditional public schools have to provide bus service to students who live more than two miles from a school. Charter schools don’t have to provide transportation, and most don’t. Traditional school districts have to accept every child in the district who shows up for enrollment. Charters can pick and choose and create waiting lists, while many kids on the waiting lists are being educated in traditional public schools.
Next time, you hear about a “non-profit” charter school, take a closer look. Many of these” non-profits” are operated by for-profit management companies, which ultimately receive the tax dollars. According to Ratliff’s findings, many charter superintendents certainly are profiting.