Education

Meck taxpayers covered more than $500,000 in benefits and pay for Wilcox and CMS team

When he started work this summer Superintendent Clayton Wilcox gave big pay raises to some current Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators and others he brought with him. It turns out some of those raises were even bigger than initially reported.

And CMS has paid almost $34,000 in moving expenses for Wilcox and two top administrators who followed him from Hagerstown, Md.

Those are among details revealed by executive contracts CMS recently provided to the Observer. The follow-up shows Mecklenburg County taxpayers are footing the bill for a number of expenses related to the leadership transition.

For instance, local taxpayers covered $79,904 paid to Wilcox this spring, before he was sworn in to the top job on July 3. His contract, as reported when it was signed, called for per-diem payments based on a fraction of his annual salary of $280,000. Wilcox used the time to learn the job while Ann Clark finished her term as superintendent.

All told, local expenses associated with the transition – including Wilcox’s per-diem pay, administrative moving expenses, new locally-paid jobs for top administrators and raises for existing ones – top half a million dollars, the Observer’s analysis shows.

Added costs for a new leadership team aren’t unique to Wilcox. But he raised eyebrows with his early decisions to bring on top administrators at higher salaries, give big raises to some existing ones, hire for jobs that weren’t advertised and create a job for his new chief of staff’s husband.

The Observer requested copies of contracts for top administrators after the school board approved them July 3, but it took more than two months of repeated requests to get those documents. While the terms are roughly what CMS summarized in July, the contracts show some additional costs.

Paying for moves

For instance, the district paid $10,000 in relocation expenses to Chief of Staff Laura Francisco and $8,917 to Chief Technology Officer Derek Root, both of whom were hired from Wilcox’s former district for jobs that weren’t open to other applicants. Wilcox also named Francisco’s husband, Jody Francisco, to a newly created and unadvertised job as culinary development manager at $85,000 a year.

That’s far more than Heath Morrison, the last superintendent hired from outside the district, paid his top executives who moved from out of state. The district compensated those executives for only half their moving expenses, with totals that ranged from just under $3,000 to $8,000. In all cases, local money was used to pay for relocation.

Wilcox’s contract called for a flat payment of $15,000 for relocation, while Morrison’s called for reimbursement of “reasonable” moving expenses and temporary housing when he moved from Reno, Nev.

Both Wilcox and board Chair Mary McCray have said the board wanted Wilcox to bring key players with him from Washington County Schools in Maryland, partly as a sign that his leadership inspires enough loyalty that top lieutenants would choose to follow him.

Divvying up costs

The state provides a basic salary for school district administrators, but a large district like CMS uses local money to boost those paychecks. For instance, Superintendent Wilcox gets just over $139,500 from the state, and CMS roughly doubles that.

Although they have different titles, most of Wilcox’s top staff are classified as associate superintendents, with a state salary of $104,256. CMS adds local supplements ranging from $66,000 to $95,000 a year.

And in some cases, CMS opts to hire top administrators paid entirely from local money, including Francisco, who makes $175,000 a year, and Root, who makes $183,500.

Every spring brings budget drama, with county commissioners saying they can’t afford to carve out what CMS requests. This year CMS asked for $440.5 million, including $4.5 million to hire 60 additional school counselors, social workers and psychologists. When the county approved less, CMS hired only 12 additional support staff.

The CMS executive contracts provide that local money will be added to reach the total salary – and that any state raises would also be applied to the executives’ pay.

Two raises in one year

That means top administrators who received large raises when their contracts were signed in April or July got an additional bump once the state approved 3 percent raises.

For instance, Earnest Winston made $134,415 a year as Superintendent Ann Clark’s chief of staff. In April, when Wilcox hired Francisco for that job, Winston was reassigned to be district ombudsman and chief of community engagement at $175,000 a year. The state raise bumped that to $180,250, for a total hike of $45,835.

Wilcox boosted Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley’s salary from $185,915 to $193,352, saying it was vital to keep her as other members of her department were recruited for jobs outside CMS. The state raise pushed Shirley to $199,152, for a total raise topping $13,000.

Shirley’s contract also shows the district agreed to make an additional retirement contribution of 6 percent of her base salary, or almost $12,000 a year, and gave her 10 days of paid local leave each year, an increase over the five days most administrators get.

As new hires, Francisco and Root didn’t qualify for the state raises, CMS said. But other central office administrators did; even those who didn’t get contract increases saw raises of about $5,000 based on the 3 percent bump.

Job isn’t finished

Wilcox has said he plans to streamline administration and reduce costs, but the job isn’t finished. He has yet to name someone to run the human resources department, for instance.

On Tuesday, he named Tracy Russ as the new chief communication officer at a salary of $163,500. That’s about $2,700 less than the previous person in that job.

And nine “community superintendents” who oversee groups of schools were given only one-year contracts as Wilcox works on a long-term plan. McCray, the board chair, said the board has charged him with revamping what many view as a top-heavy and over-supervised system.

“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 in July.

The contracts for those administrators, who are classified by the state as assistant superintendents, also provide for the state raises and five additional days of locally paid leave.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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