Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill was named one of four finalists Wednesday for 2017 National Superintendent of the Year.
The national recognition comes a day after the Wake County school board rewarded Merrill with a $6,580 raise to bring his salary to $295,695 a year. The board also gave Merrill a $6,544 performance bonus and extended his contract a year through June 2020.
School board members pointed to Merrill’s role in developing and implementing the district’s strategic plan, which calls for raising the graduation rate to 95 percent by 2020 and producing graduates who are productive citizens ready for college or the workforce. Wake’s graduation rate is now at a record 87.1 percent.
“The superintendent is responsible for implementing and carrying out our strategic plan and mission,” Wake school board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said in an interview Wednesday. “That’s exactly why he won North Carolina Superintendent of the Year and why he’s a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year.”
Merrill’s bonus was announced at the same meeting in which the school board adopted a plan to provide one-time $350 to $650 bonuses to thousands of the district’s non-teaching staff. The bonuses, which will go to employees with good work evaluations, is covered by a mix of $2.6 million in state and local funds.
Merrill was hired in June 2013 to become Wake’s new superintendent. He replaced Superintendent Tony Tata after Tata’s contentious firing by the school board in September 2012.
Merrill leads North Carolina’s largest school system with more than 159,000 students. But Alamance-Burlington Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison is the highest paid school chief in the state at $330,000 a year through a combination of pay from his school district and outside groups.
Under Merrill’s contract, he’s eligible each year to receive performance-based compensation of as much as 5 percent of his salary. Up to 2.5 percent could be paid as a salary increase and up to 2.5 percent as a bonus.
Last year, the school board awarded Merrill $12,397 in raises and bonuses. This year, the board gave him $13,124 in extra compensation.
Merrill’s pay increase is based on the board’s evaluation of his “performance on approved, individual goals” and the board’s evaluation of his performance on the state’s “superintendent’s evaluation instrument.” But Wake says Merrill’s individual goals are not public records under the state’s personnel law.
School board members had been worried that this year’s elections, when all nine board seats were on the ballot, could result in a brand new board that would try to oust Merrill. So in February, the board approved a poison-pill amendment to Merrill’s contract that gives him up to two years of severance pay if he’s fired from his contract early.
The November elections, however, didn’t result in a major change in the board’s direction. But Merrill’s contract still includes the special amendment.
Merrill has been named a state superintendent of the year three times: 2005 and this year in North Carolina, and 2013 in Virginia. Merrill could become the first Wake superintendent since Bill McNeal in 2004 to win the National Superintendent of the Year award.
“I am humbled by this honor and the opportunity to showcase the focused work and professionalism happening every day in our school district,” Merrill said in a written statement. “As we become a more global and technology-driven society, we have to adapt the way we teach our students and I’m thrilled to see that happening in our schools.”