How much should a manager or department head make in a taxpayer-supported job?

That’s a reasonable question, but obviously it’s one that doesn’t involve a simple answer.

Taxpayer-funded entities such as cities and school districts provide a wide variety of programs and services; as such, they need people in place who can organize their area of responsibility and manage the people under their direction.

Still, there must be a way to put these jobs into perspective, as far as their importance and value to the entity paying the salaries.

Is a city manager worth $250,000? Is a finance director worth $135,000? What about the salaries of police and fire chiefs? Should they be about the same, and if so, how much is fair?

In a front-page article in today’s edition, the Herald takes a look at salaries paid by area cities and school districts in an effort to compare similar jobs across the various taxing entities, as well as to give readers an idea of how their tax money is being spent regarding salaries for management.

Using a baseline of $100,000 annually, we list and rank the top salaries budgeted for department-level employees and examine them in the context of the entities’ total payroll and overall expenditures.

The jumping-off point for this article was the recent news that the Killeen Independent School District had hired a new public information / marketing officer at a salary of $136,800. In addition to the size of the salary number, what jumped out was the fact that the new hire — a morning news anchor for a local TV station — had no experience in the fields of education or marketing.

In examining the salary numbers obtained by the Herald, several trends are obvious: larger school districts and larger cities generally pay higher salaries for similar jobs. Also, areas of high responsibility and skill generally command the highest salaries. Both of those factors stand to reason.

Also, larger cities and school districts tend to pay $100,000-plus salaries to more individuals. For example, the city of Killeen, with about 150,000 residents, pays 27 employees more than $100,000 annually. Harker Heights, with a population of about 30,000, pays eight people a six-figure salary. Nolanville and Florence, with about 5,000 residents each, have no $100,000 salaries.

Similarly, Killeen ISD, with about 45,000 students and 52 campuses, has 38 employees earning $100,000 or more. Copperas Cove ISD, with 8,200 students and seven campuses, has seven people making a six-figure salary.

However, a few other trends are apparent as well. One of those is that in some instances, cities and school districts pay $100,000-plus salaries to two or more people in the same department. Depending on the level of responsibility for each and the nature of the department, that may seem questionable.

For example, the city of Killeen pays six-figure salaries to the director of public works, the assistant director of public works and the deputy city attorney for public works. That’s three positions dedicated to handling public works, at a combined salary of more than $350,000. And that doesn’t include another $100,000-plus position for the director of water and sewer.

It’s difficult to make a value judgment on whether these salaries are justifiable without knowing exactly what each position entails. To do so would be shortsighted and unfair.

These salaries also must be viewed in the context of what the market dictates for each job in similar-sized cities and school districts. What other cities and school districts pay should be a factor.

But that logic can only go so far.

When the Killeen school board early this year approved a nearly 16 percent raise for the superintendent, it raised his salary to $310,000 annually. While that number falls within the range for school districts of similar size, it must be noted that many of those large districts were in the Houston and Dallas metro areas, where both the cost of living and median income are significantly higher.

This begs the question regarding the KISD superintendent’s recent hire of a public information officer: Do the job’s responsibilities and importance to the district justify the salary offered?

A little comparison study would seem to magnify this question. The KISD public information post pays more than several high-responsibility, high-profile jobs in KISD, including the executive director of secondary schools, the executive director of elementary schools, the executive director of athletics, the chief financial officer and all four high school principals.

The KISD public information officer also earns more than Killeen’s directors of aviation, planning and development, human resources and library services.

The KISD job’s salary also surpasses that of Killeen’s fire chief, IT director and communications director. In the Copperas Cove ISD, only the superintendent makes more money than the KISD public information officer, and only the city manager and assistant city manager make more in Harker Heights.

The question becomes one of what is considered reasonable for a given position — especially given the overall median income of the area served by the taxing entity.

Four standards should be used when determining an appropriate pay range for a given position:

First, what is the scope of responsibility for the job, and how many other employees are assigned to assist in those duties?

Second, what special education, training and certification is needed to perform the job at the level required?

Third, how long has the manager or director worked in the job or a related job, and how has that experience contributed to the executive’s level of proficiency?

Finally, what does the market dictate as far as salary range, factoring in the local cost of living?

Our elected representatives should consider these factors whenever a new executive is brought on board, as well as when salary increases for current managers are up for approval in the fiscal year budget each summer.

Yes, it’s important to pay managers and directors appropriately for the work they do, and it’s also important to ensure that key personnel keep their talents here, rather than taking their skills and experience elsewhere. With that in mind, market averages must be considered.

But our elected representatives also must be mindful that taxpayers are ultimately the ones paying the salaries of our public servants — and high salaries must be balanced against the representatives’ responsibility to be stewards of our money.

With that in mind, school board members must demand more input before high-dollar hires are brought onto the district’s payroll — whether that hire is a public information officer or a principal.

Similarly, city council members must ask to review the resumes of prospective top-level administrators before they are hired by the city manager.

Certainly, these salaries don’t exist in a vacuum, but neither do the budgets that fund them.

Ultimately, our representatives must take on the fiscal mindset of “the buck stops here.”

Especially when they’re signing off on spending 100,000 of them — or more. | 254-501-7543

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