We know, or can easily guess, the answers to many questions about Ed Croom’s pension.
Yes, the Johnston County Board of Education knew that allowing the superintendent to convert perks to pay would boost his monthly retirement income. His 2009 contract with board allowed him to turn phone and car allowances and other compensation into salary, and he did, because doing so would increase his pension.
No, the school board did not think the pension boost, most recently pegged at $508,000, would come from the wallets of Johnston County taxpayers. Instead, school leaders assumed the state’s retirement system would pick up the tab.
Yes, the school board hopes to relieve Johnston taxpayers of that $508,000 burden by waging a legal challenge to the state law that put the cost of pension spiking on local taxpayers.
What we don’t know is, why? Why did the school board sign a contract that allowed the superintendent to enrich his pension beyond what his state salary earned him? What was the justification?
We can imagine a number of answers, but none of them absolves the school board of a decision that reflects poorly on its stewardship of Johnston tax dollars.
Perhaps the “why” is that the school board wanted to reward Dr. Croom for nearly three decades of service to public school children. But what about the superintendent’s tenure merits a gift that no Johnston County teacher will ever enjoy? Yes, Dr. Croom has proven to be an innovator. He signed a pact with the University of Mount Olive that will bring college-level agriculture classes to South Johnston High School, and he wants to launch a career and technical academy on the Smithfield-Selma High School campus. But are Johnston schools substantially better today than when Dr. Croom took the helm seven years ago? Smithfield-Selma parents would answer that question with an emphatic no.
Maybe the “why” is that Dr. Croom demanded the perks-to-pay provision in his contract. If so, the school board should have told him that prospective hires don’t dictate contract terms, especially in a field as crowded as school administration.
Maybe the “why” is that school board members thought the state underpays superintendents. We can’t begin to convey how tone deaf that explanation would sound to the school system’s rank-and-file employees. But even if one acknowledges that Croom shouldered the burden of earning bachelor, master’s and doctoral degrees, it’s also true that the state factors those advanced degrees into its pay for superintendents.
If the “why” is that school board members thought they could pass the pension boost off on state taxpayers, then shame on them. North Carolina taxpayers deserve as much stewardship as Johnston ones.
Again, we’re having a hard time imagining a “why” that justifies a $508,000 pension boost regardless of who was footing the bill. But if the school board has an answer, we’ll reserve space on this page for it.