Bill Would Cap Payouts to School Superintendents

Contributed by Rick Brundrett, Senior Investigative Reporter, www.thenerve.org

In March 2009, the Marlboro County School Board in a split vote approved buying out then-Superintendent’s Alisa Goodman’s contract for $400,000, throwing in another $10,000 to cover her attorney fees, according to published reports.

S.C. Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, says that never sat well with him. On Wednesday, he introduced a bill (H. 3297) that would ban the state’s 85 school districts from offering severance packages to fired superintendents exceeding the superintendent’s annual salary, unless approved by district voters in a special election.

“I understand that there’s a contract, that there’s a need to do something,” Lowe told The Nerve last week. “But not a golden parachute. This is public money.”

“I think we have to be serious about admin costs,” said Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, one of the bill’s five co-sponsors, when contacted by The Nerve.

But Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, says her organization “really would question this bill.”

“We elect school board members to run their districts,” Spearman told The Nerve last week. “One of their main (duties) is to hire and fire the superintendent.”

Lowe counters that the S.C. General Assembly has the right to address the severance pay issue because school districts receive state funding.

Because superintendents typically are the highest-paid employees in a school district, they usually receive better severance packages compared to other district employees. At The Nerve’s request, the S.C. Department of Education last week provided its most recent superintendent salary data.

Following were the top 10 highest-paid superintendents last year, according to The Nerve’s analysis of DOE data:

  • Phinnize Fisher, Greenville County Schools, $218,167;
  • Katie Brochu, Richland District 2, $213,244;
  • Valerie Truesdale, Beaufort County Schools, $205,600;
  • Cindy Elsberry, Horry County Schools, $205,000;
  • Anthony Parker, Berkeley County Schools, $195,000 (recently announced retirement; left position on Friday);
  • Percy Mack, Richland District 1, $195,000;
  • Herbert Berg*, Lexington-Richland District 5, $193,375 (retired last year);
  • Jospeh Pye, Dorchester District 2, $191,267;
  • Nancy McGinley, Charleston County Schools, $191,084;
  • Lynn Moody, York District 3, $184,240; and
  • Marc Sosne, York District 2, $174,916.

*Published reports listed Berg’s annual salary at $195,000.

The salary figures from the Department of Education did not include bonuses, incentive pay, or other benefits that make up a superintendent’s total compensation package.

The Nerve last week contacted the districts with the five highest-paid superintendents for information on their compensation packages, but only two – Beaufort County Schools and Richland District 1 – responded before publication of this story.

In Beaufort County, Truesdale receives an $850 monthly car allowance in addition to her annual $205,600 salary, district spokesman Jesse Washington said, noting Truesdale declined to accept a bonus in 2009. Truesdale also receives 1.67 vacation days and 1.25 sick days per month, he said.

In Richland District 1, Mack receives the following benefits in addition to his annual $195,000 salary, according to information provided by district spokeswoman Karen York:

  • A 2004 district vehicle;
  • 15 allocated vacation days and 15 allocated sick days;
  • Term life, disability and professional liability insurance coverage;
  • S.C. state health benefits;
  • S.C. retirement system participant; and
  • An annuity equal to 3.5 percent of his annual salary.

Superintendents in larger districts typically receive higher total salaries, though their counterparts in smaller districts often earn far more on a per-pupil basis. The Nerve’s analysis of DOE salary and 2010-11 enrollment data, for example, found the following five superintendents with the highest per-pupil salaries:

  • Everette Dean, Marion District 7, $100,665 annual salary, $160 per pupil;
  • Bertha McCants, Florence District 4, $110,000 annual salary, $139 per pupil;
  • Teresa Pope, Barnwell District 19, $110,000 annual salary, $136 per pupil;
  • Rose Wilder, Clarendon District 1, $114,739 annual salary, $133 per pupil; and
  • Deonia Simmons, Hampton District 2, $120,000 annual salary, $120 per pupil.

In comparison, the per-pupil salaries of the superintendents of Greenville, Charleston and Horry counties, which rounded out the bottom three, were $3.11, $4.55 and $5.50, respectively.

For seven school districts, the Department of Education either did not have any superintendent salary figures, or the listed salaries did not cover a full year, so they were not included in The Nerve’s review.

The median salary of the superintendents in the 78 districts in The Nerve’s review was $130,008 – about $24,000 more than the annual salary of Gov. Nikki Haley and more than four times the state’s per-capita income in 2009.

Rep. Lowe said he limited the superintendents’ severance pay in his bill to one year’s salary because he was informed that is the severance cap for state agency heads who are terminated.

But in a written response to The Nerve, Delbert Singleton, spokesman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board, said he was not aware of “any authority, statutory, regulatory, or otherwise, for ‘severance pay’ for agency heads.”

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.

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One Comment to “Bill Would Cap Payouts to School Superintendents”

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