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Superintendents: Earning Their Keep?

If South Carolina’s top-paid school superintendents had to justify their salaries based on their districts’ annual report cards, many of them would have some explaining to do.

The Nerve’s review of the most recently available records from the S.C. Department of Education on superintendents’ salaries and district report cards found that of the 20 school districts with the highest-paid superintendents, 10 of them received an “absolute” rating of “average” on 2010 district report cards; two were rated “below average"; and one – the Jasper County School District – was listed “at risk.”

The annual report cards, issued by the Department of Education, grade districts based on standardized tests scores, graduation rates and end-of-course test results.  Districts receive either “excellent,” “good,” “average,” “below average,” or “at risk” ratings.

Contacted Friday by The Nerve, Jasper County Schools Superintendent Vashti Washington, whose $165,000 annual salary tied for 16th in The Nerve’s review, defended her pay in relation to her district’s at-risk rating, saying, “That’s exactly why they brought me here.”

“In Jasper County, they’ve had more than a decade of failure,” said Washington, who has been superintendent for a year. “When you have these very complex districts, you are looking for a person with experience to come in and lead the district.”

Washington said that as a former associate superintendent in the Charleston County School District, she had a “track record when I came in,” noting that she helped turn around “some of the most terrible schools” in her former district.

Before being hired, Washington said the Jasper County district had gone through three other superintendents over a two-year period.

Jasper County, one of the smaller districts in the state with a student enrollment of about 3,500, received an at-risk rating on its 2009 district report card and a below-average rating in 2008, records show.

Washington’s former boss, Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who became superintendent in 2007, has the state’s third-highest salary ($206,727). Her district of about 43,000 students has been rated average over the past three school years, records show. She did not respond Friday to written questions from The Nerve.

The Beaufort County School District, which has about 20,000 students, also had an average rating in 2010; its superintendent, Valerie Truesdale, has the fourth-highest salary ($205,600) in the state.

“We are certainly not where we need to be but are narrowing the gap with the state,” Truesdale said in a written response Friday to The Nerve’s questions about her district’s ratings.

Truesdale, who became superintendent in 2007, pointed out that the district's absolute rating had improved in 2010 from “below average” in 2009 and 2008. Five years ago, the district scored above the state average in only one of 24 areas on the standardized PACT test; the district now is above the state average in 11 of 26 areas on the PASS test, which replaced the PACT test, she said.

Following is a list of the top 20 highest-paid superintendents as of June 30, with their districts’  2010 report card ratings in parentheses, according to Department of Education records:


  • Phinnize Fisher, Greenville County – $218,167 (average);

  • Katie Brochu, Richland District 2 – $213,244 (good);

  • Nancy McGinley, Charleston County – $206,727 (average);

  • Valerie Truesdale, Beaufort County – $205,600 (average);

  • Cindy Elsberry, Horry County – $204,999 (good);

  • Percy Mack, Richland District 1 – $195,000 (below average);

  • Joseph Pye, Dorchester District 2 – $191,267 (good);

  • Stephen Hefner*, Lexington-Richland District 5 – $186,000 (excellent);

  • Lynn Moody, York District 3 – $177,154 (average);

  • Marc Sosne, York District 2 – $174,916 (excellent);

  • Karen Woodward, Lexington District 1 – $170,509 (excellent);

  • Gene Moore, Lancaster County – $168,518 (average);

  • Rainey Knight, Darlington County – $167,628 (good);

  • Elizabeth Everitt, Aiken County – $166,160 (average);

  • Russell Booker,** Spartanburg District 7 – $165,791 (average);

  • Vashti Washington, Jasper County – $165,000 (at risk);

  • Cynthia Wilson, Orangeburg District 5 – $165,000 (below average);

  • Thomas Graves, Chester County – $161,798 (average);

  • Michael Lucas, Oconee County –  $161,501 (average); and

  • Chester Floyd, Lexington District 3 – $160,000 (average)


*Hefner’s current salary was not included in DOE records provided to The Nerve; he became the permanent Lexington-Richland District 5 superintendent in March after the 2010 district rating period.

**Booker was the superintendent-elect and an associate superintendent of Spartanburg District 7 during the 2010 district rating period.

The Nerve on Friday attempted to contact the superintendents in Greenville County - the state's largest district with about 70,000 students - and Richland District 1, which had a below-average rating, but they were not immediately available for comment, according to written responses from district representatives.

Two districts – McCormick and Williamsburg – did not report salary data to the department, though Earlean Smiley, McCormick County’s superintendent, told The Nerve in a written response last week that her annual salary is $135,000.

With a student enrollment of about 850, Smiley’s salary is among the state’s highest per pupil. The district received an “average” rating in 2010, though Smiley said in her written response she was hired after the rating period.

The average salary last year among 79 districts with permanent, full-time superintendents that reported information to the Department of Education was about $137,000, The Nerve’s review found.

State Rep. Joseph Jefferson, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill (H. 3761) in March that would have set total compensation - salary and benefits - for future superintendents at a minimum of $150,000 but no more than $170,000 annually. The bill never made it out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

As of the end of 2010, at least a dozen superintendents earned more than 170,000 annually, not including benefits, The Nerve reported in March.

Most counties have only one school district, though 15 counties have at least two. Spartanburg County has the most with seven, followed by Anderson and Florence with five each.

As of last fiscal year, which ended June 30, superintendent salaries collectively totaled more than $900,000 in Spartanburg County - the highest aggregate total in the state - and more than $600,000 each in Anderson and Florence counties, The Nerve’s review found.

State Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, introduced a joint resolution (S. 432) in January that would have created a school district consolidation study committee. But though it was approved by the Senate Education Committee, it never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

That’s because, as The Nerve reported in April, Sen. Glenn Reese formally contested the bill to prevent it from moving to the Senate floor.

The Spartanburg County Democrat told The Nerve then the fact that his county has seven school districts had nothing to do with his decision to contest the bill.

“There have been numerous studies run, and I don’t think there’s a need for yet another one,” Reese said at the time.

A study released in 2005 on school consolidation, authorized by former Gov. Mark Sanford, found that reducing the number of districts to one per county would save the state more than $21 million annually. That study was headed by Ashley Landess, who in 2008 became president of the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve.

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

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