The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday guaranteed employment for its nine community superintendents for only one year – instead of the usual four-year contracts – as the district studies whether it has too many administrators.
“We feel like we are top-heavy, and we hear that from others,” board Chair Mary McCray said after Tuesday’s board meeting. “We’re over-supervised.”
Tuesday’s vote on short-term contracts for the administrators who oversee clusters of schools is the latest twist as Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who took office July 3, sets up his leadership team.
His first round of executive appointments sparked controversy over increased administrative salaries and top jobs that weren’t advertised, including a culinary manager’s job created for the husband of Wilcox’s new chief of staff. Wilcox said at the time he planned to offset the cost increases as he fleshed out his leadership team.
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After Tuesday’s meeting, both Wilcox and McCray said Wilcox needs more time to select his team and reorganize administration.
“Are we getting the most bang for our buck? That’s what he’s going to study and what we’ve charged him to study,” McCray said.
It’s standard for new superintendents to bring in new people and reorganize staff, but members of the new leadership team generally get four-year contracts, matching the length of the superintendent’s. The one-year contracts, coupled with the acknowledgment that those jobs could change or disappear, potentially leave the administrators directly responsible for schools in career limbo as a new school year approaches.
When the board hired Wilcox from Washington County Schools in Hagerstown, Md., members agreed to pay him $1,077 a day to start learning the Charlotte job before his July start date. He spent significant time in CMS since leaving the Maryland job in March, while then-Superintendent Ann Clark continued in the top job.
McCray, who has said that arrangement was designed to prepare Wilcox for a rapid start, said Tuesday that Wilcox wasn’t given the access to staff that he needed to restructure his team this quickly.
The one-year contracts for Matt Hayes, Nancy Brightwell, Curtis Carroll, Avery Mitchell, John Wall, Kondra Rattley, Charity Bell, Tara Lynn Sullivan and Denise Watts were approved as part of the board’s consent agenda with little discussion. Wilcox acknowledged, in response to a question from board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart, that the length of the term had created “longstanding discussion” among his team.
CMS provided no details of their contracts, but Wilcox said after the meeting there would be no change in their salaries, which range from about $143,000 to $165,000. The Observer has requested copies of all recent administrative contracts but so far has received none.
The board’s 90-minute meeting was mostly quick and noncontroversial, but tension over Wilcox’s hires emerged at the end, when board members gave their reports. Ellis-Stewart, who did not attend the July 3 special meeting where several top administrative contracts were approved, said she’s been fielding constituent questions and concerns about jobs that were filled without advertising for other applicants. She asked colleagues to “think about how we approach that going forward.”
Among those hired without competition were three people recruited from Wilcox’s Maryland district, which is much smaller than CMS. Chief of Staff Laura Francisco and Chief Technology Officer Derek Root were given four-year CMS contracts at significantly higher pay than their CMS predecessors had earned, while Jody Francisco was hired for a newly-created job as culinary manager, overseeing school gardens and healthy meals for $85,000 a year.
Both Wilcox and McCray have said the board encouraged him to bring people with him to, in Wilcox’s words, “stir things up.”
After Ellis-Stewart questioned the unposted jobs, McCray read what she said was a letter she had planned to send to board members, chiding unnamed members for questioning colleagues’ motives in public without talking to those colleagues in person.
Neither Tuesday’s meeting nor the July 3 special meeting included any public discussion of administrative contracts. But after the Observer and other news media reported on the central office salaries and Jody Francisco’s job, McCray defended the decisions by noting that top officials in the city and county make more than top CMS administrators.
But when McCray was asked Tuesday night about the possibility that administrators facing uncertainty about their future might leave CMS, McCray said she had compared salaries for the CMS community superintendents with comparable jobs in other districts. “We’re by far the better paying ones,” she said.
Wilcox said he’s still looking for people to run human resources and communications. He had Laura Francisco start a search for the jobs this spring, but said he has reclassified them to lower salary levels.
These community superintendents got one-year contracts Tuesday at their current salary. CMS has provided no details on pay, but these are the salaries reported to the Observer in May.
Charity Bell, Northeast Learning Community, $143,587.
Nancy Brightwell, East Learning Community, $154,043.
Curtis Carroll, West Learning Community, $148,832
Matt Hayes, North Learning Community, $143,582.
Avery Mitchell, South Learning Community, $164,800 (Mitchell was chief human resources officer until she was reassigned in April; CMS said at the time her salary would not change).
Kondra Rattley, Beacon Learning Community, $143,072.
Tara Lynn Sullivan, Central Learning Community, $143,072.
John Wall, LEAD Learning Community, $156,014.
Denise Watts, Project LIFT Learning Community, $159,650 (half paid with private money).