Earlier this month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chair Mary McCray wrote an op-ed for the Observer about large raises given this year to CMS executives. Several of those raises were rushed through a special July 3 school board meeting without public discussion.
In her op-ed, McCray justified the pay hikes by pointing her finger at Mecklenburg County salaries. Mecklenburg had 183 staffers making more than $100,000 compared to 111 for CMS, McCray said, but beyond a fleeting reference to the CMS and county chiefs of staff, she offered no specific salary comparisons.
We thought that was a bit bizarre and said so in a tweet shortly after the op-ed was published. Charles Jeter, a former N.C. representative who is now a government relations coordinator at CMS, jumped to McCray’s defense. Her comparison was valid, Jeter said, because CMS was giving raises to make itself competitive with comparable government positions.
Last week, he followed up with a chart of CMS executive pay, including three positions he cited as “very transferable” to government agencies.
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According to Jeter’s figures, new CMS chief of staff Laura Francisco, who is earning $40,585 more than her predecessor, still makes less than similar positions for the county ($214,208) and City of Charlotte ($229,442). New CMS Chief Technology Officer Derek Root, whose position got an $18,000 bump, makes less than the city’s Chief Information Officer ($197,632) but more than the county’s IT chief ($174,971).
Things get trickier for ombudsman and chief of community engagement Earnest Winston, who is now earning $175,000 after a $40,585 raise. Jeter’s chart compares that to the city’s Organizational Innovation director ($172,559) and Mecklenburg’s Assistant County Manager - Sustainable Communities ($213,183), but those are dissimilar jobs. A more apt comparison would be to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee executive director, who makes $149,350, according to public records.
A bigger problem with Jeter’s chart: While CMS jobs might share some general characteristics with similar city and county titles, the specific institutional knowledge and skills required for those jobs are not as transferable as CMS might think. A better comparison – and one that school districts often use – is to compare salaries to similarly sized school districts.
For example, in Wake County’s slightly larger school district, Chief of Staff Marvin Connelly made $136,000 in 2015, according to reports. Chief Technology Officer Stacy Lee made $139,000 as of December 2016, while the staffer in charge of Family and Community Engagement makes less than $100,000, according to the district’s salary schedule. All the salaries are significantly less than their CMS counterparts.
Jeter told the editorial board that he couldn’t “definitively answer” whether CMS officials had analyzed the salaries of similar school districts. It appears not, however, and that smacks of CMS trying to find numbers that justified raises instead of doing a thorough analysis first.
We appreciate Jeter showing us real figures and offering a more detailed explanation for those raises. It’s far more than the school board provided to the public before pushing through the pay hikes, and it’s also more than McCray offered in her op-ed.
Unfortunately, that’s been a pattern for the school board chair, who seems to believe the public should just trust her and the board. Taxpayers deserve, and should demand, better.