No one can accuse Superintendent Steven Martinez of pinching pennies in his effort to turn around the troubled Twin Rivers Unified School District. Since he took over in 2013, he has built an all-star executive cabinet, with some salaries topping $200,000 a year.
Certainly Twin Rivers needs serious help. Its graduation rates remain abysmal, despite incremental improvement. Its reputation is still recovering from the paternity and obstruction of justice scandal that drove former trustee Cortez Quinn from office. And its socioeconomic challenges are a heavy lift: Nearly 30 percent of students are English learners, and more than 80 percent are on free or reduced-price meals.
Still, $200,000 is a hefty paycheck for a district of only 31,000 or so students. As The Sacramento Bee’s Diana Lambert reported Sunday, none of the six associate superintendents at Elk Grove Unified earn that much, and Elk Grove has twice the enrollment.
Up to a point, you get what you pay for. But patience will grow thin if this investment doesn’t quickly make the grade.
San Juan Unified is larger than Twin Rivers by more than half, and so is Sacramento City Unified, and none of their executive cabinet members are in the $200k-plus club. Eyebrows rightfully go up when a district that isn’t even among the state’s 25 largest starts edging toward Los Angeles Unified-style salaries – without LAUSD’s cost of living or nearly 700,000 students.
To be sure, the total layout for these hires is slightly smaller than what Twin Rivers had been spending on administration. And they’re highly regarded. Sara Noguchi, the new associate superintendent of innovation, research and design, was a star at Sacramento City Unified before she was passed over for the top job and moved on to the county Office of Education. Jacqueline Perez, the new associate superintendent of teaching and learning, comes well-recommended from Southern California’s suburban Chino Hills schools.
We realize that up to a point, you get what you pay for. Without high salaries, educators such as Noguchi and Perez have little incentive to leave high-powered jobs to deal with the stress of a struggling district. But time and statistics – dropout numbers, four-year college matriculation, Common Core test scores – soon will tell whether this investment was worth it. The public may put up with a Dream Team-size payroll for a few years, in a crisis, but patience will grow thin if the district’s progress doesn’t quickly make the grade.