High-Paid School Superintendents Getting Less-Than-Stellar Results

September 16, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Apple DollarIn the private sector, average- or poor-performing company leaders usually aren’t rewarded with the highest salaries in their industry. But that’s not necessarily the case in South Carolina’s K-12 public schools.

A review by The Nerve of public school district superintendent salaries and annual district accountability reports prepared by the S.C. Department of Education found that 11, or a third, of 33 superintendents with salaries above this year’s state average of $146,257 lead districts that earned a “C” or below on this year’s accountability reports.

Under the Department of Education’s district-grade system approved last year through a waiver of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a grade of “F” means the district’s performance is “substantially below the state’s expectations”; a “D” means the performance “does not meet the state’s expectations”; and a “C” equates to meeting the state’s expectations.

The 11 superintendents with salaries above the state average and whose districts earned a “C” or below on 2013 accountability reports are as follows:

Name District Salary**  Grade
Percy Mack Richland 1 $202,878 C
Randolph Bynum* Sumter $190,500 C
Russell Booker Spartanburg 7 $173,000 C
Elizabeth Everitt Aiken $171,178 C
Cynthia Wilson Orangeburg 5 $168,300 C
J. Chester Floyd Lexington 3 $166,096 C
Vashti Washington Jasper $165,000 F
Agnes Slayman Chester $157,250 D
H. Randall Dozier Georgetown $155,856 C
Darrell Johnson Greenwood 50 $153,428 D
D. Ray Rogers Dillon 4 $149,500 C

*announced resignation in July

** Source: S.C. Department of Education as of Sept. 10. Does not include benefits.

Mack’s salary is currently thefourth-highest in the state for superintendents, trailing only Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley ($218,392), Greenville County Schools Superintendent W. Burke Royster ($215,000) and Horry County Schools Superintendent Cindy Elsberry ($211,191), Department of Education records show. Each of those three districts was given an overall “B” grade in this year’s state accountability reports; a “B” means a district’s performance “exceeds the state’s expectation,” according to the reports.

The highest-paid superintendent for the first half of this year was former Richland County School District 2 Superintendent Katie Brochu, who earned $225,000, Department of Education records show, and whose district received a “B” on its state accountability report this year. Brochu announced her resignation in June amid complaints about her leadership, including public criticism of tens of thousands of tax dollars spent in recent years on what was described by district officials as “learning” trips to a Florida resort, detailed by The Nerve in 2011 and last year.

The Nerve last week sent written questions to Richland 1 spokeswoman Karen York regarding Mack’s salary and the district’s overall performance as measured by the state. The Nerve pointed out that the district received an “absolute” rating of “below average” on its 2012 state report card – one of only four districts in the state last year to receive that rating.

York issued the following email response on Saturday:

“The superintendent’s salary is set to be commensurate with the scope and nature of the superintendent’s job and responsibilities, as well as to be comparable to and competitive with the salaries of superintendents of similarly sized districts. While the district’s Absolute rating on the 2012 report card was Below Average, our Growth rating was Good which reflects year-to-year student achievement gains.

“Test scores are only one measure of student success, but it is also significant to note that the district’s most recent PASS (Palmetto Assessment of State Standards) results showed increases among students in grades 3-8 district-wide in 2013. We also are very proud that our May 2013 graduates earned more than $53 million in scholarships and that our schools received 23 Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards from the state for student achievement and improvement.”

Contacted Friday by The Nerve, Washington, Jasper County’s embattled superintendent, said her district’s overall failing rate is misleading, explaining that the scoring was based, in part, on the consolidation of two high schools and middle schools last year.

Washington said since becoming superintendent in 2010, the district has “made a lot of gains,” pointing out, for example, that teacher retention is now more than 50 percent. Still, she said the historically high-poverty district has “many challenges,” noting that about 70 percent of all children in 4-year-old kindergarten classes to the first grade cannot read at all or at appropriate levels.

“Jasper County is part of the forgotten South Carolina,” she said. “We have a dual system of education in South Carolina.”

Given the district’s longstanding problems, Washington said any superintendent would need at least six years to begin to see a significant turnaround, pointing to Clarendon School District 1 Superintendent Rose Wilder as an example, whose district earned an overall “B” grade in this year’s state accountability report. Wilder’s curent salary is $122,318 – about $43,000 less than Washington’s, according to Department of Education records.

Asked about her own salary, Washington said she hasn’t had a raise since joining the district, adding, “Most people who take these jobs are working double what their salary is worth.”

Besides Jasper County, nine other school districts receive an overall “F” grade in this year’s state accountability reports: Barnwell 19, Florence 3, Florence 4, Lee, Lexington 4, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg 3 and Williamsburg. Superintendent salaries in those district range from $100,000 in Florence 4 to $140,000 in Marion, Department of Education records show.

Reach Brundrett @ (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.