Early mistake?

4/13/2018, 1:20 p.m.

Richmond’s new schools superintendent, Jason Kamras, recently named five of the six top officials he is bringing in to be a part of his cabinet in running the city’s public school system.

As expected, all have been brought in from outside, with at least three having ties to the Washington, D.C., public school system where Mr. Kamras worked before being hired in Richmond.

We understand the new superintendent would want to bring in his own leadership team, but we are uneasy about the large salaries Mr. Kamras enticed them with that were narrowly approved in late March by the Richmond School Board.

Four of the five cabinet members will have starting salaries of $180,547 a year. The fifth is to be paid $175,250.

According to reports, the salaries are much more than they were making in their last jobs and more than the people who held the posts in the previous administration of former Superintendent Dana Bedden.

Mr. Kamras justified the pay hikes to the board, noting that by cutting the number of cabinet positions from nine to six, he will save RPS $200,000 annually.

That may be fine, but we believe Mr. Kamras could have saved RPS even more. At least two of the cabinet members are in for a roughly 20 percent pay hike when they leave D.C. for their new jobs in Richmond.

Question: Is the Richmond school system, or the city itself, so bad or that much worse than D.C. that a 20 percent pay hike was needed to induce someone to take a job here? 

We don’t believe that to be the case.

We also know that housing prices are a lot less in Richmond than in the District of Columbia and its neighboring suburbs. So even if the new cabinet members had been held at their current salaries, their money would go farther in Richmond.

A 5 percent pay raise would be more defensible, given that teachers’ raises have been hit or miss since 2009. RPS teachers received a 3 percent raise in 2014-15 and some received a bump of 12 percent over two years in 2016 and 2017 to make up for past salary freezes. They are slated for a 2 percent raise under next year’s budget.

It is no secret that Richmond is struggling to find money to replace or rehab its worn and dilapidated school buildings. While Mr. Kamras’ $200,000 savings by reducing the cabinet is commendable, that amount could have been even larger had he and the School Board dialed back the exorbitant raises.

As School Board member Kenya Gibson pointed out in a statement released before the board’s vote, “In Detroit, administrative salaries were among the highest in the nation, while the system was on the brink of bankruptcy. In Philadelphia, a student died in a school lacking a full-time nurse while the system employed a medical consultant earning a (big) salary. These cities suffered from a top-down approach that heaped resources on a small number of administrators, leaving students, parents and teachers without what they needed to be successful. We cannot repeat those mistakes here.”

As Mr. Kamras starts his new administration in a city worn out with financial and other problems, let’s hope those mistakes won’t be our downfall.