Johnston County school board members are either dimwitted or disingenuous, and we don’t think they’re dimwitted.
In arguing that Johnston taxpayers aren’t on the hook for a $520,000 pension boost for retiring superintendent Ed Croom, school leaders say they never increased his pay. That’s disingenuous.
When they say “pay” or “salary,” school leaders no doubt mean “compensation,” and in that sense, they’re technically right. Dr. Croom’s compensation has not increased in his years as superintendent. It’s just that school leaders allowed him to convert some compensation, like car and phone allowances, into salary. At the end of one year, total compensation was the same as the year before. In other words, the superintendent didn’t get richer.
But most of us take pay or salary to mean what our pay stub says before deductions for state and federal taxes, Social Security, Medicare, health insurance and so on. And in that sense, Dr. Croom’s salary certainly increased, because perks became pay, which we’re certain his pay stub showed.
But let’s put aside the semantics of salary vs. compensation and look at the school board’s motivation for allowing Dr. Croom to convert perks to pay. The only reason to turn car and phone allowances into salary is to increase pension-eligible compensation, i.e., salary, so that one’s pension is greater in retirement. Otherwise, what’s the point of converting perks to pay?
Johnston school leaders aren’t dimwitted; they knew when the superintendent turned perks into pay, his pension would go up. They just assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that the state’s pension fund would pick up the costly tab.
But state lawmakers, thanks in part to News & Observer stories, caught on to the pension spiking, especially in the state’s community colleges, and while they didn’t outlaw it, they passed a law that said the local governments granting the spikes would be responsible for them. That’s where we stand now.
The bottom line is that Johnston school leaders got caught with their pants down, and now they’re trying to wiggle their way out of a $520,000 bill. But their argument is disingenuous. No judge is going to buy it, and Johnston County taxpayers shouldn’t either.