School budget battles

This the first half of the fourth story in a five-part series on local public officials' salaries.
Alex Doty
Jan 2, 2014

School superintendents are among the highest publicly paid employees in our community.

They are responsible for the important business of educating our children, and must handle all that comes along with being a top employer. The sheer number of moving parts and programs as well as funding changes and issues at the state level make this a high-pressure position.

We asked all three of our local superintendents – whose salaries range from $120,964 to $174,806 – to share their perspectives on school district successes and challenges.

Keith Konarska from Grand Haven, Dennis Furton from Spring Lake and Bob Szymoniak from Fruitport each answered questions about their districts. Here's what they had to say:

Q: What is the biggest challenge your school district faces?

Konarska: “Without a doubt the greatest challenge moving forward is looking for ways to maintain a full continuum of service for our students despite being funded at pre-2005-06 levels.”
Furton: “Balancing our needs with financial realities is challenging.”
Szymoniak: “The biggest challenge we face is inadequate school funding.  The labor force we employ costs as much or more today than in recent history, but funding levels are back at 2005-06 levels.”

Q: What are the issues that keep you up at night?

Konarska: “Funding certainly tops the list. This continued threat to our quality programs keeps me up at night.”
Furton: “Right now, it would be the budget, but it could also be the bond planning.”
Szymoniak: “The issues that keep me up include inadequate funding, as just mentioned, but also the fact that our Legislature is not well informed on school matters.”

Q: What is the easiest thing to manage as a superintendent?

Konarska: “I am really not sure if there is anything that I would call easy about this role, but I will say one of my greatest joys is observing the many gifts and talents our students bring through the door each day.”
Furton: “Everything other than my personal schedule.”
Szymoniak: “I would say I really don't consider anything to be easier to manage than the rest. Everything I do is connected in some way to everything else. I love it all.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.



Lifetime pensions.
Lifetime insurance.
Smaller classes including an assistant.
Fantastic benefits.
3-4 months vacation.
Why do we have financial issues?
Gee, got me????


Your laundry list of complaints includes a number of straw-men, I'm sorry to say.

First of all, class sizes are going up, particularly in the secondary level. 32 is the new 28. That increases workload and complicates classroom management.

The benefits package for teachers is quite good, but that has to be balanced against salaries that aren't especially high compared to the private sector. Teachers have to keep taking classes to maintain licensure. Thus, most teachers earn master's degrees within a few years. Even though there is a pay bonus for that, salaries are lower than the private sector for equivalent educational experience. Study after study shows this. At best, the non-salary benefits package makes up for this pay disparity. Meanwhile, pension and retirement insurance benefits have been reduced, particularly for new teachers.

You should also consider that most teachers work considerably more than 40 hours per week during the school year. When you include staff, department, and committee meetings; conferences, both formal and informal; lesson planning, which is a massive time sink, particularly for newer teachers; grading, which requires more time as class sizes go up; and then add extra-curricular activities, not all of which are paid; you are approaching 55 hours per week without too much effort. For new teachers, this number is higher: ask any student teacher at any reputable program, and you will hear about 60-70 hour work weeks. This is a contrast to many private-sector jobs, where many professionals can work their 40 hours in the office, but take much less work home. As it happens, 55 hours/week for 36 weeks works out to 1,980 hours/year. Someone who works 40 hours/week for 50 weeks (leaving 2 weeks for vacation) will work 2,000 hours/year. See? The gap between teachers' working hours and their private-sector colleagues just shrank substantially.

As for the 3-4 months vacation, that's as much a demand from businesses and parents as it is from the educators. Many teachers would love to do year-long schooling, with shorter breaks in the middle. It's the state that doesn't allow schools to start before Labor Day, after all. The state adopted that because 1) parents like to take vacations around Labor Day, and 2) businesses like low-paid teenage labor during the summer tourist season, which doesn't end until Labor Day.

The teaching profession is tougher than it looks. The burnout rate for new teachers is 50% after five years. I'm not arguing that higher teacher pay would solve the problem; it's still not a career for everyone, no matter what it pays. I can guarantee, though, that reducing teacher compensation will not attract well-qualified young people to the profession, and will drive many people who would have been great teachers into other professions. It is churlish to use false equivalencies to condemn teachers as over-compensated.

Tri-cities realist

I'm sure others in the private sector got a good laugh about your 40 hour work week. Many who are part time would like to work 40, 50, 60+ hours a week. For many who are full time, a 60+ hour work week is the norm. Welcome to our world teachers, where have you been the last few decades? And while only anecdotal evidence, of the 4 teachers I know well, none of them work more than 45 hours per week, ever. And none of them support year round school with a reduction in vacation time, without an increase in salary of course.

As for the 3+ months of vacation, I would like to see legislation proposed for year round schooling, and see where the teacher's union stands. Care to take a wager?

Don't get me wrong, I support our local educators, those who are passionate about their work, and who truly strive every day to make a difference in our children's lives. It's a challenging profession, but one whose compensation is more than adequate, when looking at pay and benefits vs. hours worked.


You are delusional or dishonest if you do not think most working professionals in the private sector leave their work behind after 40 hours. I do not know of a single professional salaried person in the private sector that works just 40 hours a week in their office. Also with the advent of technology like smart phones and web conferences and email many (maybe even most) professionals in the private sector work a LOT outside of normal office hours.

Most private sector professionals often end up doing some type of work even on their "vacation."

The continual shrinking of the private sector workforce has caused those that are left to pick up the slack.

I think teachers do a GREAT job and deserve our respect ... but let's be honest about the conversation here. They have it pretty good and it is not like private sector employees are getting it easy.


local superintendents – whose salaries range from $120,964 to $174,806

OK, not bad at all!
BUT......what is the "NET" compensation for each after bennies??Let's look @ the whole package!


With all his answers to those questions - were paying too much into those superintendent positions. We need something drastic like a ballot initiative to chop those salaries down to reality. Anything over $45K a year is too much to pay any administrator. There are alot of people who could do a better job alot cheaper. Those salaries in public schools should be capped to what the average taxpayer earns per county.


I believe he negotiates a contract with the district just like the school teachers and other staff members do. The issue I have is if the teachers wages are froze or contracts are re-negotiated then why is the superintendents contract or benefit package not re-negotiated???

Former Grandhavenite

I think the reason that superintendent contracts generally aren't renegotiated is that they are the ones who would be responsible for negotiating on behalf of the district against themselves, and they aren't going to bring the gravy train they're riding to a stop. It's not like the school board is realistically going to stand up to them either.

Along the same line- Why don't major companies outsource the CEO position to India or hire some illegal immigrant to do it for $8/hour the way they do with every possible job done by the regular employees? Well, because the company isn't being run for the benefit of the employees or even the average stockholder. The district isn't being run for the benefit of the taxpayer OR the teachers union (contrary to popular belief). Like all rigidly hierarchical systems with a huge built in power difference, it's designed to funnel as much money as possible in the short term to the top managers.


Name one of those people. Bet you can find one who's qualified.


I hope the taxpayers consider these good comments when we are once again face with the cries of more money.

Say no to new taxes

Consolidation of districts is the answer if your serious about saving money. You don't need a Superintendent making close to 200k (when benefits are considered) every few miles along with a large support staff. Education spending has outpaced inflation the past ten years with little or no improvement in test scores. More money is not the answer.


Agreed. There is no reason to have two super't in Spring Lake and Grand Haven. Same thing with transportation . . .these services need to be consolidated before we hear more whining about lack of funding.


I have a Masters degree in Bus. Admin.
Lifetime pensions: Do not have any pension
Lifetime insurance: I pay $100/ mo. plus have a $4000 deductible and very limited items covered.
Smaller classes including an assistant: I have no assistant.
Fantastic benefits: Nope
3-4 months vacation: 3 weeks a year after 10 years.
Why do we have financial issues salary is $ 38,000/year.
Hours.....45-50 per week @ the office.
Gee, got me again!

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