The Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education unanimously has decided to increase the salary of new superintendent Larry Chavez from $150,000 to $175,000. This decision was based on the idea that Santa Fe is a “high-cost area and a competitive superintendent market,” so the superintendent salary needs to be more “in line with the pay in other districts.” That’s according to Board of Education President Kate Noble.
Besides the fact I believe that having reached a certain level of purchasing power, there are no additions that can have a significant impact in an individual’s life, I have a hard time understanding the timing and the message the board’s decision sends to the rest of its workers.
First of all, how can the salary of one person in the district be four times the salary of a Level I teacher? To highlight the point, a Level I teacher starts at $45,000, which makes living in Santa Fe a struggle. This insecurity causes teachers to give up at a high rate early in their prospective careers. The workload-salary imbalance is staggering.
Secondly, and not independent of the first point, the high cost of Santa Fe is a huge problem, but it will not be for our new superintendent. It is especially harsh on our extra-vulnerable first-year and Level I teachers because of a lack of affordable housing. They are finding it harder than ever to work in their beloved Santa Fe. The lack of affordable housing, however, is not exclusive to new teachers. Sadly, it impacts even career teachers.
Third, and probably the most insulting to us teachers, is that all principles of solidarity are dismissed with such a raise. It places value in the labor of one individual while devaluing the labor of an essential group of people whose work is just as challenging and perhaps even more critical.
This sends the message that we are expendable. It seems as though we are the cheap labor of a big corporate factory in which the CEO lives rich by siphoning value off underpaid labor. While I understand that the job of a superintendent may be unique and relevant, I am sure it is harder to find a new bilingual special-ed teacher than is to find a new superintendent. (In fact, the Public Education Department has to recruit Spanish and Mexican teachers to alleviate the obscene lack of teachers of New Mexico.)
If the Board of Education has unanimously agreed on the new superintendent’s salary, does the district then have the ability to raise the salary of other workers? If this is the case, and there is a surplus of money, I would urge the board to create a fund for a grant, or invest in student needs, or allocate it in a way that can directly impact our students and community.
However, to raise the salary of an already well-compensated worker by such an amount primes imaginations of all sorts and stirs resentments. That’s especially true during current circumstances, with a prospective and significant decline in the district’s budget due to the lack of students in the turmoil of the pandemic era.
Good teachers are scarce in Santa Fe. Bad teachers are scarce in Santa Fe. Teachers are scarce in Santa Fe. We wonder why the district is keen to address the perceived scarcity of qualified candidates for superintendents with the offer of a high salary, but unwilling to apply the same logic to address the scarcity of qualified candidates for teaching positions.