School chief ready to start

The Durham school board settles contract details with its new superintendent

Staff WriterFebruary 11, 2006 

Harris pledges 'my best efforts' to improve the system.

The money has been agreed upon and that contract signed. When Durham Public Schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger enters retirement in June, Carl E. Harris will get the keys to the district and a $34,000 raise.

The school board's selection of the deputy superintendent to lead the Durham schools became official Friday with the signing of a four-year contract that is quite similar to Denlinger's.

In the contract, Harris will be paid $185,000 a year to start, with the possibility of annual 5 percent bonuses based on his evaluation and the support of two-thirds of the seven-member school board.

Harris came to Durham Public Schools as an associate superintendent in 2003 from the top job in Franklin County Schools. He could not be reached for comment Friday but released a statement saying he was honored at his selection.

"I am committed to giving my best efforts to making Durham Public Schools the best in the nation," Harris said. "Together, we can achieve this goal."

Like Denlinger's, Harris' contract gives him a $750-a-month car allowance and another $100 a month for a cell phone. The school board will pay Harris' membership in up to seven organizations and also pay him for up to 10 days of unused vacation each year. On top of the annual bonus, Harris will receive annual 5 percent raises.

The school board used a document comparing superintendent salaries from across the Southeast and Midwest that was compiled by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system to ensure its offer to Harris was in line with what school chiefs make elsewhere.

Board Vice Chairman Steve Martin said he was pleased that the process of replacing Denlinger and snagging Harris was finished.

"I am excited and hope to be working for him for the rest of my term," Martin said. "He's going to hit the ground running and establish new goals that will make us stretch."

Friday culminated the smoothest superintendent transition in the 14-year history of the merged city and county school system.

When Durham almost lost Harris to a Savannah, Ga., school district last year, where he was named a finalist for the superintendency, board members quickly moved to ensure Harris would remain here.

Harris' mild manner, accessibility and his track record for closing the racial achievement gap and reducing suspension rates made him the universal favorite among board members who often don't agree with each other. He will be the first black person to lead the district in a non-interim role.

The board named him the heir apparent even before Denlinger announced her retirement, bumped up his salary and created a new position -- deputy superintendent -- just for him.

The board voted unanimously to give Denlinger's job to Harris the same night that she told the public that she planned to step down. It shunned the lengthy searches that usually occur when a superintendent leaves and managed to avoid a process that has been tumultuous in the past.

Staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones can be reached at 956-2433 or nikole.hannahjones @newsobserver.com.

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