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Editorial: $40K in 3 years?! APS superintendent’s raise has zero to do with student achievement

“The information (on the superintendent getting an 11% pay raise) is not information I am providing independently. It’s information I have received from the CFO, and it was checked and as far as I know is correct.”

– Monica Armenta, APS executive director of communications

“(APS staff) are doing negotiations, they’re working out some of the details of what the raise might be, that’s going to be presented back to the board on the 22nd. Nothing is final. There’s lots going on behind the scenes.”

– David Peercy, APS Board of Education President

APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Last year just three of every 10 students in Albuquerque Public Schools could read at grade level, one out of five could do grade-level math and barely seven of every 10 graduated on time.

Yet it appears Superintendent Raquel Reedy, who started out at $236,308 in 2016, just got a sweet 11%, $27,460-a-year raise. (FYI the per capita income in New Mexico is $25,311). According to her staff, Reedy now makes $276,187, a salary that kicked in July 1 and would total almost $40,000 in raises in less than three years.

But the Board of Education president is saying not so fast. He says the raise is not definitive, it’s up for discussion tomorrow and Reedy’s latest raise could very well be closer to a 6%, $14,923 a year to $263,650. (Reedy will also get $160,000 over three years put into a supplemental retirement plan, adding around $50K to her annual compensation, along with ownership of a $100,000 life insurance policy. Her predecessors Winston Brooks and Luis Valentino had annual compensation packages worth $311,000 and $268,000, respectively.)

Down at the classroom level, far from the APS HQ tower, Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein weighed in with “it’s unfortunate the people in the district don’t have the same information.” She’s right. It’s beyond disturbing that the folks who hired Reedy and the folks who cut her paycheck are behaving like a student who missed the first day of class and never picked up the syllabus. Taxpayers and parents should be able to take for granted that the folks at the top of an 80,000-plus student district, folks who all do the district’s work in the same building, mind you, are on the same page.

The debate comes down to how you read a paragraph in Reedy’s three-year contract – similar to those of her predecessors – that says:

“This salary shall be increased in each school year during the term of this contract to reflect the average annual raises provided to teachers of the district (the ‘adjusted base salary’). The board may, but shall not be required to, increase prospectively, but not retroactively, the salary for any school year governed by the terms of this contract.”

Armenta says the 11% reflects the average increase teachers are getting when you take into account the raise many teachers are receiving to bump them to new minimum tier salaries along with the state Legislature’s recent 6% pay raise for all other teachers. And she says Reedy has pledged to keep “6% or 7%. She will gift the remainder of the money to the (nonprofit APS) Education Foundation.” That will make a nice tax deduction.

Bernstein offers this reality check: “They should consider what it means for teachers who have been in the classroom 30 years and only get 7%.”

Imagine being that teacher – remember the majority of our students can neither read nor do math at grade level – and finding out that your raise for your daily Herculean efforts to get students on track for next school year is percentagewise about half of the raise your administrators are getting. And that brings up another important question: Is everyone in the administration getting that 11% raise? Granted, the Legislature’s wording is so murky that’s likely up for interpretation as well, but APS has said its total salary increases will cost the district almost $45 million – $6.5 million more than the state allotted for raises.

Meanwhile, the real debate at APS should be about why the superintendent of the state’s largest school district, the 38th largest district in the nation, has absolutely zero performance benchmarks in her seven-page contract.

To be fair, her predecessors apparently didn’t either. But if APS is ever going to be accountable to taxpayers, parents and students, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Note that the words “academic,” “benchmark,” “improvement,” “proficiency/proficiencies” and “graduation” do not appear anywhere in the contract. The word “student” appears just once, in reference to the superintendent being required to seek help from the APS Employee Assistance Program should she be charged with a felony in order “to be a proper role model for students.”

A better way to be a role model for young people is to deliver on what you are being paid for. This is far from unprecedented. College coaches are remunerated in their contracts based on their student-athletes’ grades and performance. It makes no sense that the APS superintendent’s financial compensation is completely separate from the board’s evaluation discussion.

Out in the private sector, people are paid based on what they bring to an organization, not an average of what everyone else in the organization gets. And don’t forget the latest data show just three of every 10 students in APS can read at grade level, one out of five can do grade-level math and barely seven of every 10 graduate on time.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.