In a time of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and campus closures, at least one position in high school education is in such demand that salaries are skyrocketing well into six digits:
Hoping to bolster school spirit and create an atmosphere that will attract new students and benefactors, private-school administrators from south Orange County to the outskirts of Ventura are digging deep to structure financial packages for coaches that dwarf those of even the best-trained, experienced teachers.
At Chaminade Prep in West Hills, Ed Croson makes nearly $100,000 to coach football while the scale for a science or math teacher with a master's degree and 10 years' experience is $53,953. And over at Crespi High in Encino, teachers are complaining that new football Coach Jon Mack was awarded a salary of well over $100,000 after instructors -- including some who make about a third as much -- were told there would be a salary freeze for the 2010-11 school year.
"The pressure is on to pay more," said Jeff Woodcock, headmaster at Oaks Christian, a relatively young school in upscale Westlake Village. "Why is [football] so important at USC? Why is it so important at top universities? It's because they know people want to be part of success. When you have a high-profile program that's successful, it has residual effects."
Oaks Christian trumpeted its sports programs from the start. When the school opened in the fall of 2000, its 18-acre campus was already dominated by athletic facilities such as a lighted football stadium, all-weather track, 1,200-seat gymnasium, 2,300-square-foot weight room, 50-meter swimming pool, and top-flight baseball and softball complexes.
To guide the football program, Oaks Christian hired Bill Redell, a veteran coach who played professionally in Canada and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame -- and he didn't come cheap.
Redell, who is paid in part from private resources not directly connected to the school, declined to reveal his salary but indicated it was comparable to what other top coaches in the Southland are now receiving -- in the area of $100,000 or more, about the same as a top large-school coach makes in football-crazy Texas.
"I'm not low-paid," Redell said.
Neither are other Oaks Christian coaches, four of whom were among the school's top five highest-paid employees in 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service records. Included was football assistant Mark Bates, who also taught math and helped direct a summer-school program for his $103,915 salary.
Whatever Oaks Christian pays Redell, it got the bang for the buck it was looking for. The coach quickly built a powerhouse that has won six California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section football championships and one state championship, and sent dozens of players to major-college programs on scholarship. Meantime, enrollment has boomed from about 160 to 1,119 for grades six through 12 at a school where the tuition next year will be $23,860.
JSerra, a newer private school in San Juan Capistrano, took a similar approach when it hired Jim Hartigan to be its football coach and athletic director in 2007, making him the school's second-highest paid employee at what IRS records show was a salary of $145,000. Hartigan had been a consistent winner in 16 years at Santa Margarita and Clovis West high schools, while in its first four years JSerra, which had aspirations of challenging Mater Dei High for sports supremacy in Orange County, had not won a league football game.
Since then, Hartigan has helped raise the school's athletic profile in football and other sports with his involvement in fundraising, summer camps and the hiring of other accomplished coaches.
"He's being compensated for doing a host of other things that are not typical job responsibilities of a football coach" at another school, JSerra President Frank Talarico said.
Still, given tough economic times, there are critics who say money for education should be invested in the classroom. Ethicist Michael Josephson, who enjoys athletics and is an enthusiastic fan, lamented that by using "resources that should be devoted to educational needs" to pursue a football coach, schools were creating "a distortion in the importance of sports."
"We're elevating athletics over education," he said.
Private schools from the upper-middle-income suburbs aren't the only ones offering lucrative job opportunities. Even in the cash-strapped Los Angeles Unified School District, which is facing a $640-million deficit next school year, veteran coaches willing to work overtime make big money.