Midtown Raleigh News

New Wake superintendent to get security and enhanced retirement pay

Incoming Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill’s contract includes the ability to request security for himself and his family, as well as coverage of his $16,500 a year contribution to the state retirement system.

The benefits – also including a possible pre-employment consulting fee of as much as $11,000 – come on top of the $275,000 annual base salary that Merrill will receive, $25,000 more than his predecessor Tony Tata. School officials say they had to pay Merrill more to recognize that he has greater education experience than Tata and to compete with what’s offered to superintendents in districts similar in size to Wake.

“Merrill is starting with 13 years of prior experience as a superintendent,” school board Chairman Keith Sutton said on Wednesday. “The objective was a starting salary commensurate with his experience.”

Merrill, superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools until July 31, was hired Tuesday by the Wake school board to lead the 150,000-student system, the state’s largest and the nation’s 16th largest.

He’ll be paid less than Heath Morrison, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Morrison’s base salary to lead Charlotte’s 141,000-student system is $288,000 a year with an additional 10 percent annually in retirement contributions and an opportunity for a 10 percent performance bonus.

Some of the items in Merrill’s contract, such as the retirement contribution, differ from provisions Wake has offered previous superintendents. Participants in the Teachers and State Employees Retirement System are required to contribute 6 percent of their salary. Wake will reimburse Merrill, 62, for his contribution.

“It was one of those things he wanted,” Sutton said. “Some things were accepted. Some things were refused.”

Sutton declined to say what requests from Merrill were rejected.

In addition, the contract stipulates that before Merrill’s Aug. 1 start date, the new superintendent can receive $1,100 a day for as many as 10 days of consulting in Wake County to “familiarize himself with the school system and community.” Merrill worked in Wake from 1984 to 2000, rising to associate superintendent.

Another new contract provision for Wake says “in the event of public controversy or threat,” Merrill can request that the school board “provide security measures that it deems reasonable and appropriate to enhance the safety of the Superintendent and/or his immediate family.”

“I doubt that it will ever be needed,” Sutton said.

Dan Edwards, chairman of the Virginia Beach school board, said the security provision is also part of Merrill’s current contract, but has never been exercised during his seven years as superintendent.

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Maurice Green has identical security language in his contract. A district spokeswoman declined to say whether Green has ever used that option.

Unlike Tata, Merrill’s contract also allows him to receive 96 hours a year of compensation time for the time he works on nights and weekends.

Some features are identical to Tata’s contract, including the year’s pay Merrill would receive if he’s fired before his contract expires June 30, 2017.

Merrill becomes Wake’s third superintendent since 2010, when Del Burns resigned and was replaced by Tata.

“Wake County isn’t quite the inviting place it was four years ago because of the turmoil and the politics,” school board member Tom Benton said. “There’s definitely more risk than there was before and with more risk comes more money.”