It is common practice for superintendents in counties with district budgets over $100 million dollars to receive well over $200,000 in salary. The position of superintendent is incredibly complex, especially under the current economic conditions.
So, if I am at all responsible for the Santa Clara County school board’s negative grade in “Who’s Up & Down” in Sunday’s Internal Affairs column in the Mercury News, I am deeply sorry. But, my quote in reporter Sharon Noguchi’s article last Thursday, which detailed the salary for new county Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, was taken completely out of the context intended.
“Two hundred and ninety-nine thousand dollars is not even close to fair compensation for someone living in Silicon Valley,” I was quoted as saying. But, as I wrote in a letter to the editor published Sunday, “My poorly chosen words quoted in the article were meant to indicate the inequity of his current salary and housing cost in El Paso, Texas, compared with his new negotiated salary and Silicon Valley. For the talents and knowledge De La Torre possesses we are getting the best at a fair cost. I think our community will benefit from our decision.”
The board painstakingly wrestled with the salary question relative to the valley’s economic conditions. However, it was always the board’s intention to compensate Dr. De La Torre fairly for all the attributes he brings to the position. In the final analysis, he will earn less than the retiring superintendent.
The salary for the position of county superintendent was publicly posted for two months at $295,000. There was little to no public complaint during this time. Even the board’s legal negotiator on the contract for Dr. De La Torre believed that the compensation would not be controversial, based on superintendent salaries in Silicon Valley, the high cost of housing and living, and the fact that this new contract was less than the current superintendent’s contract.
Unfortunately for Dr. De La Torre and the board, the local newspaper did not feel the same way.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education board staunchly believes and has stated on many occasions that public education must ensure that public dollars are spent on classrooms, students and teachers over bloated bureaucracies. We consistently advocate for finding ways to reduce costs while allocating more dollars for teachers and classrooms.
One example is that some members of the SCCOE Board, including this trustee, believe 31 districts are too many. We certainly do not win many collegial friends by our outspokenness on this subject, but that should never be the goal of an elected leader. In our meeting on March 21, we will discuss the issue about district consolidation and unification once again. The Commission on School District Organization has the authority to deal with these issues and is housed in the SCCOE. Ultimately, these are local public issues subject to the vote of the electorate, not the county superintendent or board.
Prior to Dr. De La Torre’s official appointment on March 7, I spent all afternoon with him and his wife meeting with key strategic leaders in Silicon Valley. The goal was to introduce him to diverse vantage points about the overall quality of public education here. All the leaders we met with came away with very favorable first impressions. We even went to the Mercury News’ office at 2:30pm for a first meeting with editor Barbara Marshman and Noguchi.
It seemed that the answers to the questions posed elicited positive responses from both interviewers, yet to my disappointment Noguchi focused on the salary issue with my quotes.
Here are details that should have been featured in the Mercury News’ story on De La Torre’s appointment:
1. The SCCOE board hired a superintendent it believes has the experience and skills to streamline a bureaucracy that is excessively large and out of touch with today’s economic realities.
2. Union President April Carlson supports the hire and was reluctant to criticize the contract.
3. Dr. De La Torre rallied community support in El Paso to pass a $300 million bond program, the largest in the history of West Texas.
4. Soccorro School District’s teachers union president said the staff blossomed under Dr. De La Torre and there was a higher level of performance than ever before.
5. Michael Nahara, Soccorro Board President, said, “First and foremost he is analytical and deliberate, carefully considers all options, drives people into action. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and patient. Even with difficult decisions there was mutual respect between the board and Dr. X. He established trust and maintained an attention to detail. It is a huge loss for us.”
6. Soccorro, under the leadership of Dr. De La Torre, won the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation Prize in two successive years. This prize—$150,000 each year in scholarships—is given only to a large urban district that makes the most progress nationwide in raising student achievement, narrowing gap between income and ethnic groups, and improving college readiness.
I know I am biased here, but from my perspective, I think the SCCOE Board deserves an arrow pointing up for bringing Dr. De La Torre and his family to Silicon Valley. Improving public education for all children in this area is incredibly important work.