Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TOP STORY >> Superintendents’ pay justified

Leader and Arkansas
News Bureau report

Cabot School Superintendent Frank Holman’s salary and benefits packages put him near the top earners among Arkansas school superintendents, but local supporters say he’s well worth it as Cabot continues its steady growth with new school openings plan-ned at steady intervals.

According to a survey by state auditors, Holman’s pay and benefits package ranks him fifth in the state at $181,329.
“Dr. Holman is extremely organized, meticulous, employee-oriented and balances all of his duties with whatever is best for the students,” said Alan Turnbo, a Cabot Board of Education member.

“It’s not an easy job, it’s very strenuous,” said Brooks Nash, another Cabot board member.
“First, he oversees 8,500 students, which is a huge responsibility all in itself,” Nash said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how active Dr. Holman is in the legislature. He works to help all the school districts, not just Cabot.
“He does a great job of keeping the board up to date on our finances,” Nash added.

Besides a $6,000 car allowance, Holman receives $10,495 in health insurance benefits, plus $1,150 in life insurance premiums and $1,620 for professional dues.

Holman is the second highest paid superintendent in the area, just behind the Little Rock superintendent, who runs the largest district in the state and earns $232,554 with benefits.

Although the Pulaski County Special School District is searching for a new superintendent, the troubled district offers one of the highest pay-and-compensation packages in the state.

Pay and benefits amount to $175,324, just behind Holman’s compensation, although PCSSD has 17,280 students, more than twice the number in Cabot.

North Little Rock’s superintendent makes $154,194, followed by Searcy Superintendent Tony Wood with $137,237. Beebe Superinten-dent Belinda Shook makes $101,545.

Lonoke Superintendent Shar-ron Havens makes $97,625.

Springdale’s superintendent is the second highest in the state, earning $215,853, while Fayetteville’s superintendent is the third highest paid with $198,234. The fourth-highest is Forth Smith at $174,174.

Calico Rock has the lowest-paid superintendent at $61,000.

State auditors said a second study on school administrative costs is expected later this year.

The information should go a long way in helping the legislature address one of Gov. Mike Huck-abee’s prerequisites for calling a special session on education reform to address a court order declaring Arkansas’ school funding system unconstitutional, legislative leaders said.
The survey, presented to the Legislative Joint Auditing Comm-ittee, detailed superintendents’ annual salaries and annual salary and benefits packages.

It also detailed which superintendents receive a housing allow-ance, which receive a vehicle allowance and how much each district pays in premiums for health and dental insurance for its superintendent.

“This is good information,” Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, said after the meeting.

He said the salary survey and study of administrative costs “should be the information we need to make a de-cision.”
Broadway asked legislative auditors Friday to find out the education backgrounds of the 252 su-perintendents, and asked if studies have been done on superintendents and administrative costs in other states.

Senate Pro Tem Jim Argue, D-Little Rock, said the superintendents’ salaries were interesting but that the information, coupled with the administrative costs, should give lawmakers a good picture of how much schools spend outside the classroom.

“I think it relates to the Lake View litigation in that clearly the state has got the duty to make sure school districts have the capacity to employ every administrator hired,” Argue said.

Argue, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, also said he wants more information on the benefits that superintendents receive.

He questioned why some superintendents receive better benefits than regular teachers.

“I’m not sure that the leader of the district should have a more generous benefit package than troops on the front line,” he said.
Gov. Mike Huckabee said in a statement released by his office that the survey of superintendent sala-ries was a “good first step in assessing the transparency of our schools.”

In a 5-2 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled Dec. 15 that the legislature failed to make education spending its top priority in this year’s regular session and “grossly underfunded” school building re-pairs and construction.

The court set a Dec. 1, 2006, deadline for lawmakers to remedy what Justice Robert Brown called “a constitutional infirmity which must be corrected immediately.”

On Dec. 30, the governor listed a series of prerequisites before he would call a special session on education reform. He wants a study done on superintendent salaries.

One of the items he said he wanted was a study done that included current salaries of superintendents, their experience, education attainment, responsibility, length of service and cost-of-living adjustments based on where they live.

Huckabee has said he wants lawmakers to consider developing a pay grid or schedule that would pay superintendents based on education, like teachers are paid.

Currently, there is no pay scale for superintendents, and their salaries and benefits are negotiated with the individual district that hires them.
“In response to the Supreme Court ruling on Lake View, my priorities are to look at the accountability, transparency and efficiency in Arkansas schools,” Huckabee said Friday.

The governor said he looks forward to getting the information on school administrative costs and said he hopes a survey is done on the costs incur for athletics.

During Friday’s committee meeting, Legislative Auditor Charles Robinson cautioned lawmakers that while the information on superintendents’ salaries is interesting, it doesn’t tell the whole story about superintendents and the school districts where they work.
He said the second survey will show each school district’s overall administrative costs and the salaries and benefits packages for assistant superintendents.

“Some of the smaller districts may have just one superintendent, while a larger district may have one superintendent and 40 assistant superintendents,” he said. “We’ll need to put both reports together so we can compare school districts.”
After the meeting, Robinson said hopes the survey can be completed by late spring.
The legislative audit survey can be found at www.legaudit.state.ar.us, under the Jan. 12-13 meeting listing.

Rob Moritz of the Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this report.