News-Star: Opinion

Pay perks set superintendent apart

In emails and Facebook posts, readers have expressed outrage with the roughly 90-percent pay bump the Johnston County Board of Education gave incoming superintendent Ross Renfrow. One reader said she couldn’t think of one Johnston County taxpayer who would have granted such a pay raise. “If there is one out there, please step up to the plate and write a check for $90,000,” she wrote.

To be honest, the total dollar amount of Dr. Renfrow’s new compensation package doesn’t bother us all that much. Instead, it’s the preferential treatment that some of those dollars will buy.

Dr. Renfrow will make about $210,000 a year when he becomes superintendent on March 1 of next year. Frankly, that doesn’t strike us as outrageous for the chief executive of Johnston County’s largest employer, a “company” with a budget approaching a quarter of a billion dollars.

But the school board will do for Dr. Renfrow what it does for no classroom teacher, teacher’s assistant, cafeteria worker, bus driver or custodian, and that simply strikes us as wrong.

For starters, the school board – which is to say, Johnston County taxpayers, including teachers – will pay medical and dental insurance for Dr. Renfrow and his children. Granted, many Johnston County teachers enjoy free health insurance. But teachers who want insurance to cover a greater share of their health expenses – 20 percent instead of 30 – pay a small monthly premium. And any teacher who has added a dependent to her state health insurance will tell you that’s expensive. Dr. Renfrow won’t have to worry about that costly burden.

Also, the school board will give Dr. Renfrow $15,000 annually for transportation costs and $3,060 yearly for a cell phone plan. On a monthly basis, that’s $1,250 for transportation, which means the incoming superintendent, unless he favors exotic cars, will never pay out of pocket to buy, insure and fuel a vehicle. And he’ll get $255 a month for a cell phone, making him the envy of every teenager in Johnston County.

One could defend those outlays by arguing that superintendents spend a lot of time in their cars and on the phone. But do superintendents spend any more time in retirement than classroom teachers? Of course not, but the school board – again, Johnston County taxpayers – will spend more than $20,000 annually to fatten Dr. Renfrow’s pension and Social Security benefits. That perk might be commonplace for superintendents, but it strikes us as especially egregious.

With such perks, the Johnston County Board of Education is saying that some school system employees are more special than others. We’re not sure that’s a message the school board should be sending to its rank-and-file employees, especially when so many teachers are leaving Johnston for greener pastures.