The issue of school district superintendents being given hefty severance packages isn't just a problem here in South Carolina:
In 2007, the Wayne Township School Board and then-Superintendent Terry Thompson agreed to a renegotiated contract that provided a generous retirement package for whenever Thompson decided to step down.
But it wasn't until this month that board members realized just how lucrative that deal was, to the tune of more than $1 million.
- IndyStar.com, 1/28/2011
In South Carolina, this will often happen when the balance of power shifts on a school board and members want to pay off a superintendent so they can quietly move their cronies into well-paying jobs. After all, it's easier to pull off a scam when nobody who knows is talking.
With such profiteering in a highly-politicized environment by school boards and administrators, it's hard to see who is looking out for the school children. But Florence State Representative Phillip Lowe is working to get the problem under control, filing House Bill 3297.
Lowe's bill would cap severance packages to one years' salary. He was concerned about this practice, arguing superintendent severance packages should not be "a golden parachute. This is public money."
Being an HR person, I know that many employers don't offer severance pay, and if they do, it's at the rate of a week or less per year of service (and often less). Most school superintendents work for just several years at a given district, so that cap doesn't seem unreasonable. Especially when the money is coming from the pockets of taxpayers, many of whom lost their jobs in this recession for layoffs with little or no severance pay.
One good example of this practice was seen two years ago in Marlboro County, where the county School Board approved buying out then-Superintendent’s Alisa Goodman’s contract for $400,000. This was on the heels of an election where control of the board shifted from one faction to another, and four months after she had been given a one-year extension and a favorable performance review.
The replacement superintendent was hired at the salary of $115,000/year, roughly a third of Goodman's severance package amount.
In real terms, this sum could have paid several teachers, or replaced several extremely-aged school buses. In a time when school districts are crying and pleading for more money, it seems strange that school districts would continue such practices.
However, there's at least one hog at the trough ... ummm ... voice of opposition to Lowe's bill. Molly Spearman, a former legislator who is the executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, whose members stand to lose big bucks if such practices are reined in She said her association's members "really would question this bill", arguing "we elect school board members to run their districts".
Maybe so, but we don't intend for them to take state tax dollars and waste them paying hush money to those in a position to blow the whistle. Perhaps Spearman should be more outspoken on some of these severance abuses so such bills wouldn't be necessary.