The numbers that matter most when it comes to educating our children in Longview ISD — or any school district — are those that measure academic achievement.
To name just a few: Test scores, enrollment numbers indicating students who stay in school and graduate, and the number who choose some form of education after high school.
Those sorts of numbers all point toward the possibility of success both for students and the community.
That doesn’t mean other numbers are unimportant, of course. Money, for instance. Just how much money is being spent to achieve the results we get?
Understand that with the exception of a few voluntary donations, every dollar spent by Longview ISD comes from taxes, no matter the source. Just because some of the money is in the form of a federal or state grant doesn’t change that fact.
It’s all your money. Does it provide the education you want for our students?
We ask the question in light of a story the News-Journal published last week about some of the financial realities of the East Texas Advanced Academies — the organization that now operates six Longview ISD campuses as charter schools.
The figures are surprising to us, given the increased amount of money being spent to essentially do the same job that was done, say, two years ago.
As an example, James Wilcox, Longview ISD’s part-time superintendent, makes $124,014 per year. Cynthia Wise, the CEO of East Texas Advanced Academies, makes $175,000 a year with a $6,000 travel stipend. That brings the total for top management of our schools to more than $300,000 per year.
So the district is paying roughly three times the amount it was paying two years ago for the same job, now done by two people. Of course, if Wilcox were a full-time superintendent, his salary would be higher.
That’s not the end of the redundancy, however.
Donald Stewart is the advanced academies’ deputy of business operations and is paid $130,000 per year. Megan Burns is deputy of curriculum and makes $92,500 per year. Longview ISD also has a chief financial officer in Joey Jones and an assistant superintendent, Horace Williams, who is responsible for curriculum.
It isn’t clear from published budget numbers how much each makes, but any new salary increases what taxpayers were spending in previous years to do the same job.
Is all this excessive? It depends on the results, which have not been measured as yet. We will know more in the spring, but perhaps it will be too soon to see much improvement after a first year.
It could take several years before we know whether this charter school experiment will have any positive — or negative — impact whatsoever.
We do know that, as charter schools, the public is being removed one more step from the decision-making process. The charter system’s budgets, hiring, firing and other matters must be approved by the Longview ISD school board, but will there really be public discussion of such matters or will the decisions of the charter administrators simply be accepted?
We will have to wait and see. There is much about this setup we still don’t know and that no one seems to know. Even amid these questions, though, the district is aiming toward converting more campuses.
The surprises about Longview ISD’s charters just keep coming and, when it comes to their children’s education, surprises do not make parents happy. For now, we can only hope the numbers add up.