By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education approved a contract Monday which will set Interim Superintendent Valya Lee's salary at nearly $100,000 less than her predecessor's pay as the school system's leader.
Lee received a one-year, $187,000 contract from the school board to lead the school system until a permanent school chief is hired, said board Chairperson Alieka Anderson. The interim superintendent will also receive a car allowance worth $500 per month, Anderson added.
Former Superintendent John Thompson, who was fired March 14 by the school board, had an annual salary of $285,000, as well as a $2,000-per-month housing allowance. The reduced salary for Clayton County's school chief position comes as the district tries to adjust for a $19 million decrease in state funding created by a loss of 3,200 students.
"We looked at what the previous superintendent made and decided it needed to be cut back," Anderson said. "We're trying to be frugal. We already have cutbacks that we're making, so we wanted to cut back the salary for this position as well."
While Lee's salary will be less than Thompson's, it will still be higher than two other recent school chiefs in Clayton County. Former Superintendent Barbara Pulliam had a $185,000-per-year contract when she resigned in 2007, and her replacement, Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan made $176,000 per year.
Lee said her new contract includes a clause which mandates board members give her 30 days notice if they decide to replace her with a permanent superintendent. Board members have said Lee will only lead the school system until a permanent school chief is hired, but the interim superintendent has not ruled out the possibility of accepting that position if it is offered to her.
Earlier this year, the school board set a July 1 deadline to have a permanent superintendent hired and, either in the district, or on his or her way.
"I'm not going to do any more, or any less, than I am already doing," Lee said. "I'm still focused on doing what's right for this school system."
A copy of Lee's new contract was not immediately available after the board meeting. School system Paralegal Latasha Lowe said it needed the signatures of all nine board members before she could release it to the Clayton News Daily.
Lee said she received a one-year contract because Georgia law requires superintendents have a minimum contract length of one year. Duncan also received a one-year contract, and Thompson's original contract was for 14 months when he was hired as a "corrective superintendent."
Former school system General Counsel Julie Lewis said, however, the law does not necessarily state that a superintendent's contract be a minimum of one year. She questioned the need to give Lee a one-year contract when the board was committed to having a new, permanent superintendent hired in a little over two months.
"You know, you're automatically going to break the contract because the board already passed a resolution to hire a permanent superintendent by July 1," Lewis said. "It wouldn't make sense."
Lewis, who was let go as part of a reduction in force in late March, said before she left the district, she had been working on an addendum to Lee's contract as assistant superintendent of student support services to adjust her title and duties as interim superintendent. The attorney also said Anderson asked her to adjust Lee's salary through the addendum to make her the highest paid employee of the school system.
Thompson's original contract with Clayton County schools drew the ire of officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools last August because it gave him "unusual powers" to sidestep the school board whenever Georgia law did not prevent him from doing so. Anderson said Lee's new contract will not give her any such authority.
Anderson said board members looked at contracts for other school systems in the area, including Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School System, to determine what they wanted Lee's contract to look like. The board's chairperson said Lee's new contract is an "appropriate contract."
"We believe she is conducting a wonderful job, and is deserving of a contract that is comparable to superintendents in other school systems in the area," Anderson said.
Parents at the board meeting said they were happy just to see Lee's salary was not as high as Thompson's salary. Riverdale parent Linda Granger said she believes the lower salary was a sign that Lee was looking out for the school system's best interests.
"She's staying in line with what the other superintendents [before Thompson] made, and it shows she's looking out for the county, which is more than the previous superintendent did," Granger said. "I feel he was overpaid, and I know a lot of other parents felt the same way."