December 7, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Big pay hikes for Blue Valley administrators

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Parents remain frustrated over the lack of dyslexia services in USD 229 Blue Valley, which has been partially blamed on a funding issue, but some district administrators received large pay hikes last year.

Superintendent Todd White was paid $352,646 or almost 12% more than the year before.  Deputy Superintendent Michael Slagle was paid 12.5% more, at $234,073, and Superintendent Elect Tonya Merrigan received an 8.5% increase to $225,221.

Others receiving large increases include General Counsel Melissa Hillman (6.8% to $179,247) and Principal Brett Potts (6.7% to $170,219).  Amy Farthing was promoted to an Executive Director position and a 30.4% boost to $165,561.

Total payroll expenditures of $166.7 million were 2.46% higher than a year ago.  The complete payroll listing is available at

Top-heavy management

Blue Valley also has more managers per student than many other districts.

USD 229 employed 189.5 managers last year, including the superintendent, assistant and deputy superintendents, principals, assistant principals, directors, instruction coordinators, and curriculum specialists.  With 22,464.4 fulltime equivalent students, that’s an average of 118.5 students per manager.

By comparison, USD 512 Shawnee Mission, has 181.6 students per manager, and if staffed at that level, Blue Valley would have 65.8 fewer managers.

But the savings could be even greater.  Shawnee Mission expanded its management staff under the last two superintendents but the district had 215.4 students per manager in 2015; staffed at that level, Blue Valley would have 104 fewer managers and the savings would make as much as $20 million more available for things like dyslexia services.

Student achievement much lower than parents told

District administrators lead parents to believe that student achievement is sky high, and while results are better than many districts, many parents are shocked to learn that less than half of the district’s 10th-graders are on track for college and career.

The 2019 state assessment results from the Kansas Department of Education shows 21% of 10th-graders in Blue Valley are below grade level in Math; 30% are considered to be at grade level but still need remedial training to be on track for college and career, and only 49% are on track.

Results for English Language Arts – labeled here as Reading – are a bit better but still surprisingly low, with 21% below grade level.  34% are at grade level but they still need remedial training and just 45% are on track for college and career.

State average results are also much lower than parents and employers are led to believe by school districts.

41% of students are below grade level in Math, and 34% are below grade level in Reading.  Only about a quarter of the state’s 10th-graders are on track for college and career.

Legislator reaction

Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stillwell), who represents Kansas House District 27 within the Blue Valley district, says parents are already very unhappy with district officials’ decision to cancel activities and mostly provide remote learning in the fall.  The revelation of large pay hikes for administrators won’t sit well with many patrons.

“It saddens me to see numbers like this in such a trying time.  Parents who are scrambling to find someone to help teach their kids so they don’t fall behind and the incredibly talented student-athletes who are sidelined will lose scholarship opportunities to those who are allowed to play.  Most importantly, we have special needs students and students who are not getting the attention and help that they need.  I just don’t see how top-heavy payrolls will solve any of this.”

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