- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When the former superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools Jack Smith left his job unexpectedly last July, then-new school board member Joe Chenelly and other local officials expressed their surprise.
Smith’s employment contract with the Calvert County Board of Education, which began July 1, 2010, was scheduled to run through June 30, 2014 — the end of this current school year.
On May 23, 2013, Smith and the school board amended this contract, stating Smith could resign from his position after giving at least 45 days of written notice to the board. On June 19 last year, Smith announced his resignation as Calvert County superintendent. He took a job less than a week later with the Maryland State Department of Education as chief academic officer for the state.
But before Smith’s departure, newcomers to the board Chenelly and Kelly McConkey began asking questions regarding Smith’s compensation and did not like what they found.
“During my campaign, I felt I was looking at the budget, and it didn’t make sense to me,” Chenelly said. “[The central office] seemed to be a top-heavy system, and it didn’t seem like there were an abnormally large number of people working at the central office, but it did seem like there was more spending at the central office than I knew why.”
At the time of Smith’s departure, the executive administrative team of Calvert County Public Schools was made up of five members: Smith; Robin Welsh, former deputy superintendent and current principal of Calvert Country School; Kim Roof, former executive director of administration and current director of student services; Deborah Pulley, former executive director of school operations, who assumed the principal role at Mill Creek Middle School before she retired; and Tammy McCourt, who served as the chief budget and business officer until she began working for St. Mary’s County Public Schools in January.
Chenelly said after he and McConkey came onto the board, Smith brought up giving teachers and the executive team raises. When Chenelly and McConkey asked Smith directly how much he made, “that became a point of contention, and he said you can look at the contract and figure it out for yourself,” Chenelly said, adding that when he continued to ask more questions, “out of the blue,” Smith asked for the addendum to his contract allowing him to leave with 45 days notice.
“We granted him the addendum, and then he shortly after resigned,” Chenelly said. “Then we heard from the executive team about their contracts, and I was completely unaware of those contracts.”
Chenelly and McConkey found that while Smith’s contracts paid him a base salary of $169,000 a year, his total compensation was upwards of $300,000 in his last year as superintendent. Smith has said that is due to benefits, including life and health insurance coverage that will continue for life for him and his wife, paid by the school system and approved by the previous board. Smith also was permitted to cash in annual sick leave he hadn’t used.
During the last four years Smith’s reported salary remained at $169,000, his total compensation increased every year.
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, payments of $195,274.18 were made — $26,274.18 beyond Smith’s reported salary.
In 2009, Smith’s total compensation was $203,606.06 — $34,606.06 more than the reported salary.
In 2010, the total was $261,491.98 — $92,491.98 more than the reported salary.
In 2011, $318,561.23 was paid out, nearly $150,000 more than Smith’s reported salary. In 2012, which is the last amount available, Smith took home $330,888.54, which is $161,888.54 more than his reported salary of $169,000.
In total for those years, Smith was compensated more than $464,000 beyond his base salary.
The board also is currently paying Smith more than $125,000 during the course of two years for additional leave payout. In addition, Chenelly and McConkey said they were surprised to learn Smith had contracts with his executive team members, allowing them similar benefits and yearly salaries to increase by tens of thousands of dollars, according to records obtained from the school system.
These benefits include cashing in annual leave and sick days, travel expense reimbursement and similar benefits to those awarded to Smith.
The executive staff also took home more than their reported salaries because of these contract benefits. During some of those years, Welsh, Pulley, Roof and McCourt earned salaries that did not match those originally laid out in their contracts. Combined, they were compensated an additional $249,621 during Smith’s last four years.
“The board was not aware that Dr. Smith had these contracts [with top administrators] until earlier this summer,” said Eugene Karol, current president of the board of education, who was on the board during Smith’s tenure and approved the superintendent’s contracts.
“I really felt, normally, you don’t have contracts with people other than the superintendent,” Karol said. “I think if we were going to have [executive team contracts], they should have been contracts with the board, if we were going to have them at all.”
“The average person could not figure out what they actually brought home,” McConkey said regarding the executive team’s salaries and contracts. “[Smith] repeatedly let us know he was the most underpaid superintendent out there. … Once we figured out how much he was really paid, he was not the most underpaid superintendent.”
Smith publicly said during this time that his salary of $169,000 was continuing to stay the same because he would refuse a raise if teachers were not given a raise. Smith was praised at board meetings for being the lowest-paid superintendent in the state.
Superintendents in St. Mary’s and Charles counties were receiving salaries of $279,435 and $289,050, according to recent information from the Maryland State Department of Education. As in Calvert, the superintendent of St. Mary’s County, Michael Martirano, and the superintendent in Charles County, Kimberly Hill, are permitted to cash in unused annual and sick leave, boosting their annual compensation. The student enrollment for St. Mary’s and Charles counties, respectively, in 2011 was 17,449 and 26,778, larger than Calvert County’s student enrollment at that time of 16,553, according to the MSDE. In Cecil County, with 15,827 students, and Wicomico County, with 14,520 students, superintendents’ salaries were reportedly $168,498 and $165,000, respectively, which were less than Smith’s $169,000 salary.
“The biggest problem I had was that they told the teachers there was no money for four years, and teachers didn’t get raises for four years, but they continued to take care of themselves,” McConkey said. “It bothers me the amount of money they took home was taken out of the classroom and away from the kids. … [Smith] has contracts, so I’m not saying he’s not entitled to it.”
Smith said recently those contracts with top administrators were no secret and “were discussed in open session for several years. If board members did not receive that information, then I can’t comment on that.”
When asked about his contracts and salary, Smith said simply that his contracts were consistently approved by members of the board and discussed during open negotiations with the school system and the Calvert Education Association.
“I negotiated the contract with [the board], and they are the ones who agreed to it and signed it,” Smith said. “The board members signed my contract … they made a contract with me. … There were 12 [board members] over the course of seven years.”
The current interim superintendent, Nancy V. Highsmith, who assumed her position after Smith left, has received some criticism for her reorganization of staff that she said had nothing to do with any issues regarding the former administration.
“It was not a cleaning house,” Highsmith said. “You bring in people that you know can work with you, and you bring in your own team, and that’s what I did.”
When asked about the former superintendent’s contracts, she said they “speak for themselves.”
“I think the more transparent the contracts are, so people understand exactly what’s in the contract, the better off the board and the superintendent are,” Highsmith said.
“I was just totally appalled,” Calvert County Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said about hearing this information from the board. “[Smith] was a contract employee, and to give someone health insurance for life, that was unbelievable. … We have people that work in county government and teachers who work 30 to 40 years and when they retire their health insurance isn’t completely paid for themselves let alone their spouse. I don’t see how any previous board member would approve that. … The superintendent was living within the contract that was negotiated between the members of the board. The fact that they were naive and liberal in what they negotiated … one would think they would learn from that mistake.”
William J. “Bill” Phalen Sr., who is running for the board of education in this year’s election, was president of the Calvert school board when Smith was superintendent. He said the difference between Smith’s reported salary and his actual compensation was due to the benefits package put together by the board, which was justified because of Smith’s hard work. Phalen also said he did not “specifically remember” any executive contracts between Smith and members of the executive team but believes if they existed, Smith ran them by the board for approval.
Joseph Sella, chief negotiator for the Calvert Education Association and Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff, said the teachers’ unions were tracking the executive team’s contracts since 2009.
“[Smith] was running a public school system, not a corporation, and it certainly had golden parachutes built into it,” Sella said. “It’s very strange to say you’re the lowest-paid [superintendent in the region] and not comment on the extra monies he was receiving. … I can guarantee you our teachers would love to have health care for life. … The provisions were standard, according to our financial analyst, but you can’t say you’re the lowest-paid superintendent and then have all this extra money in there. That’s thinking outside the box in the wrong way.”
Sella said the contracts followed protocol as far as being published on the school system’s website but that either few people took the time to look through the contract or they did not understand which benefits were awarded as additional compensation. Regardless, Sella said this was happening while the administration was “nickel and diming teachers for raises.”
“Who is more important? The teachers delivering services to the students or the superintendent?” Sella asked.
Moving forward, Chenelly said he is confident the school system is heading in the right direction and will be as transparent as possible.
“As we seek out a permanent superintendent, that four-year contract will be very transparent, and anyone that is compensated in our school system will be as transparent as possible, and that’s the way it should have been in the first place,” Chenelly said. “People need to know this board and administration can be trusted. Some people may not trust the school system for a while, but we’re gonna earn their trust back.”
“The key to all of this is whatever we do as a board, we need to be very transparent about what we do,” Karol said. “It’s important that we be transparent, particularly to the public money we are paying this person.”