Who says there’s no money in education? Not CMS

The Observer editorial board

Clayton Wilcox offered big money to attract some of his former co-workers to Charlotte.
Clayton Wilcox offered big money to attract some of his former co-workers to Charlotte. jeason@charlotteobserver.com

Want a 30 percent raise for doing the same or comparable job as you’re doing now? Hurry on over to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where new Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and the school board are handing them out left and right. Oh, unless you’re a teacher or someone else down the chain. Then you’re stuck.

On his first day on the job, Wilcox pushed through raises of more than $30,000 and $40,000 a year for CMS administrators, the Observer’s Ann Doss Helms reported. CMS regularly pleads for more money from taxpayers, but the purse strings are loosening under Wilcox, and in a hurry.

Some of the biggest raises, Helms reported, go to newcomers who worked with Wilcox in Hagerstown, Md. His chief of staff, Laura Francisco, will make $40,585 more than predecessor Ann Clark’s chief of staff, Earnest Winston, did. Don’t fret for Winston, though; he’ll get a $40,585 raise, too, with a smaller title. Wilcox brought in a new chief technology officer, Derek Root, at about $18,000 more than the previous CTO made.

Wilcox also created a job for his chief of staff’s husband. Jody Francisco will be paid $85,000 a year to be “manager of culinary development.”

Wilcox himself will make 14 percent more than Clark, if he earns his 10 percent performance bonus.

When Wilcox was hired, he said: “I’m relentless. I get up in the morning thinking about how to serve kids and I go to bed thinking about it.”

Do these paydays, given out even as teachers scrape by and spend their own money on school supplies, serve the kids?

It’s not that pay raises, even big ones at times, are automatically unjustified. But they do need to be justified, and Wilcox and the board haven’t done so. Were CMS administrators across the board underpaid compared with administrators in similar districts? Wilcox and the school board have shown the public no evidence that that is the case. To persuade the public that these large taxpayer-funded raises are defensible requires some explaining from Wilcox and board members – not a rushed vote, and more than, “I really wanted her here.”

CMS routinely argues it’s underfunded. It is asking county taxpayers in November to let it borrow $937 million and so needs public confidence that it is a good steward of public money. Teachers and others are doing vital work at subsistence wages. So even if some raises were in order, it is tone deaf for Wilcox to make this his first order of business, and in such an extensive way and with overtones of nepotism.

CMS teachers were on message boards Thursday, aching over the resources their students could have had with this money and lamenting that Clark was denied when she sought local teacher pay supplements.

Of course, the money Wilcox is spending on his top administrators wouldn’t go far spread across this huge district. But his approach does nothing to make the rank-and-file feel supported, and the optics get him off on a bad foot. Wilcox and the school board owe the public an explanation, if there is one, of why this isn’t as bad as it looks.