- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Funding Calvert County Public Schools is a challenge each year. The school system is consistently ranked as one of the best in the state of Maryland. Every two years we elect members to the board of education and entrust them with keeping the school system’s standards high and its policies and processes transparent. One of the main challenges facing the board right now is the selection of a new superintendent, a leader to guide the public school system as it addresses implementing Common Core learning standards, among other issues.
This time around, the board should be much more wary about not only who it brings aboard, but in how the new superintendent’s contract is structured.
Last week, The Calvert Recorder ran an in-depth story regarding former Calvert County Superintendent Jack Smith and the total amount of money he was paid — and will continue to be paid for a couple years — during his tenure in that position. Our reporter, Sara Newman, discovered what board of education members had discovered: Smith had used his generous contract to take home far more than he constantly indicated as “the lowest paid superintendent” in Maryland. Smith’s annual reported salary was listed as $169,000, but records we obtained showed he had been compensated more than $464,000 beyond his base salary during his last four years. Not only that, but his executive staff had contracts with the school system that allowed them additional take-home pay for cashing out certain benefits and perks. The executive team consisted of former deputy superintendent Robin Welsh; former executive director of administration and current director of student services Kim Roof; former executive director of school operations Deborah Pulley; and Tammy McCourt, the chief budget and business officer who now works for St. Mary’s County Public Schools.
The two newest members of the board — Kelly McConkey and Joe Chenelly — began questioning the superintendent’s contract upon arriving at the board. As they kept pressing to see what the superintendent was actually being paid, Smith suddenly resigned. We found it odd at the time of his resignation that it came so abruptly, but Smith assured us it was because he wanted to spend more time with his family. A little more than a week later, he announced he had taken an advisory role with the Maryland State Department of Education.
While there does not seem to be anything illegal here, the compensation offered to Smith and other top administrators does raise questions. Sure, everyone is entitled to the money they negotiate in a contract, but as Calvert County Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) stated in our report, Smith was a contractual employee and should not have been able to have certain perks written into his contract. Specifically, he noted health insurance for Smith and his spouse for the rest of his life, will be paid for by the school system, and, ultimately, Calvert taxpayers.
Smith deflected questions about his contract by pointing out the bloated contracts negotiated by superintendents in neighboring Charles and St. Mary’s counties, stating he was still being paid a salary far less than them. On the surface, yes, he most certainly was, but this is the same man who appeared before the county commissioners each year, hat in hand, begging the commissioners for more money for the school system budget, claiming there just wasn’t any more juice to be squeezed to pay for things like pay raises for teachers.
While Smith and his staff are the target of a lot of anger in this issue, the board of education members and negotiators for both Smith and the school system deserve a lot of the blame as well. For board members to appear shocked that a contract they signed off on was taken advantage of reeks of irresponsible governing. As elected officials, their duty is to represent the citizens who have entrusted them with their money to spend it wisely. Allowing a contract employee, who is now almost a year removed from actually working for the Calvert schools, the ability to continue to drain money from the school system because his contract guarantees it is ridiculous.
Chenelly noted one thing that is completely accurate as a result of this incident: The public trust is broken. The board of education has much to do to repair that trust. Start with hiring a competent superintendent and give that person a much more reasonable and transparent contract. We should pay educators handsomely for the services they provide in an often thankless profession. But it should not be the hired figurehead who is reaping the most rewards on the backs of the teachers he is supposed to represent.