TACOMA, Wash. – How many highly-paid administrators does it take to run a public school district?

TacomaIn the Tacoma, Washington district, the answer is “a lot.” And those administrators  preside over a district with disappointing academic scores and a low graduation rate.

In most businesses, a boss making a lot of money while producing mediocre results would soon be looking for other work.

Yet that rarely seems to happen in American  public school districts – even those whose students are clearly not learning as much as they should.

The sheer number of highly-paid top dogs in the Tacoma school district is eye-opening.

The district has roughly 29,000 students and 1,800 teachers. In fiscal 2014 it paid 134 employees – almost all administrators – more than $100,000 in straight salary. Their combined annual salaries totaled a hefty $15.8 million.

Compare that to the Buffalo, New York school district, which has about 34,000 students and 2,900 teachers. Only 88 employees made more than $100,000 in 2014-15.

The San Francisco school district has about 56,000 students and 3,600 teachers, which pretty much doubles Tacoma in both categories. Yet that district had only 112 employees making six-figure salaries in 2014-15.

The seemingly top-heavy payroll in the Tacoma district featured really big salaries for the top 10 earners.

They were Superintendent Carla Jo Santorno ($253,898), Assistant Superintendent Joshua Garcia ($184,885), Assistant Superintendent Lynne Rosellini ($146,240), Assistant Superintendent Toni Jo Pace ($146,240), Director/Supervisor Sammy Bell ($143,818), Director/Supervisor Rosalind Medina ($136,545), Principal Bonnie McGuire ($136,410), Principal Danny Besett ($136,410) and Principal Kevin Kannier ($136,410).

An administrator named Shannon McMinimee, whose job title was listed only as “professional,” ranked third on that list with a salary of $153,771.

Together the top 10 made a combined salary of $1.5 million.

The high labor costs in the district go deeper than straight salary.  A total of 159 employees had total compensation packages worth at least $100,000, for a grand total of $20.4 million.

With so many chiefs making so much money, one might guess that Tacoma students are receiving first-class instruction. But the district’s 2014-15 state report card suggests otherwise.

In state testing on third- through eighth-graders, as well as high school juniors, the percentage of Tacoma students scoring proficient in English language arts and math fell short of the state average at every grade level.

In some cases it was much lower. The average percentage of fourth-graders statewide scoring proficient in English was 54.6, compared to 42.3 in Tacoma. The average percentage of eighth-graders statewide scoring proficient in math was 46.1, compared to 37.7 in Tacoma.

Meanwhile, the graduation rate in the district for the Class of 2014 was a disappointing 78.3 percent.

Just what are all those people earning all that money for again?

Alissa Mack contributed to this report.