Does the Killeen Independent School District chief deserve a raise?
The contract signed recently by the board of trustees says Superintendent John Craft will get the same percentage increase given to teachers, bus drivers and other staff members — in his case, a larger dollar amount, from $2,487 to $7,461.
The board Tuesday will choose the percentage to give everyone. Some school board candidates in the May 7 election have questioned whether Craft should be one of the employees receiving a raise.
The district has had some successes, such as the launching its first dual-credit high school campus — the Early College High School — in collaboration with Central Texas College.
But it was also a year of challenges. Last year, the district’s special education department was investigated by the state. The findings of the investigation revealed the district was out of compliance for seven years — resulting in lost educational time for special-needs students across the district. Many of the district’s schools remain overcrowded, using portable buildings to fill the need for extra space. And a Central Texas nonprofit, Texas Appleseed, cited the district for its excessively high rate of disciplinary placements for elementary — disproportionately African American and special education — students.
The head of Killeen ISD is responsible for both the district’s joys and hardships.
Given this knowledge, the Herald sought to know what the school board candidates think of a potential pay raise for Craft.
Craft has worked in the district since 2012 and now takes home a base salary of $248,000. As interim superintendent in 2014, he earned $156,000. According to his current contract, which extends to June 2019, the superintendent “shall receive the same percentage increase as that granted to the category of professional employees in 2016.”
A 3 percent raise for Craft is quadruple what teachers stand to take home. According to the Herald’s calculations, Craft’s pay raise would put him above that of the previous superintendent, Robert Muller, who was head of Killeen ISD from 2008 to 2014 and left the district earning $256,000.
Incumbents vs. Opponents
During a political forum hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP last week, school board candidates were asked their stance on Craft’s impending raise. Three candidates approved of his raise, while three opposed.
Incumbent Corbett Lawler, who did not attend the forum, provided his response via email. Amanda Casebier, a candidate for Place 3, also was not at the forum but did not return the Herald’s request for comment.
The views of the incumbent candidates — Shelley Wells, Place 1, Susan Jones, Place 2, and Lawler, Place 3 — differed greatly from their respective opponents — Phillip Floyd, Place 1, Laura Allen, Place 2, and Phyllis Nairn, Place 3.
The incumbents justified their approval in different ways.
Jones, Place 2, said Craft’s pay initially shocked her when she began her time on the board, but she quickly learned it was par for the course.
“When I did the research, I quickly found out that superintendents in the state of Texas are hard to come by,” Jones said. “And if you want a good superintendent, you are going to have to pay the bucks. And if you are not going to pay it, somebody else is going to hire him. ... I believe the superintendent gets the same pay raise our employees get and not a penny more.”
Wells, Place 1, said Craft’s compensation is commensurate with other comparable districts.
“We don’t just come up with these salaries; we do comps across the state of Texas,” Wells said. “Texas Association of School Boards helps us do these comps ... we compare our school districts to other school districts and look at the salary range for their superintendents and that is where we come up with a salary for Dr. Craft. Do I think it is fair for him to get a 3 percent increase when other employees get a 3 percent increase? Absolutely, I think he deserves it.”
In a statement to the Herald, school board vice-president Lawler said very few people do not like Craft.
“Dr. Craft does deserve a pay raise,” Lawler said. “He has done all that the board asked of him when we first hired him. His strength as a superintendent is in his ability to relate to all people, those with whom he works and those in the community. Overwhelmingly, those people give him a good report.
“Though the newspaper and a few within the community may not speak well of him, they are in a small minority,” Lawler said. “Anyone who is willing to study the whole story and understand the constraints of his job will eventually like and respect him.
“... Dr. Craft’s salary is only average for superintendents of districts our size throughout the state,” he said. “That is the way we determine the salaries of all our staff — what is the prevailing wage for that position? Technically a 1-3 percent pay increase is not a pay raise; it is barely a cost-of-living increase.”
The opposing candidates offered a different point of view on Craft’s raise.
What may be a hefty cost of living increase for those in Craft’s income bracket is far less for the district’s custodians, paraprofessionals and bus drivers, said Nairn, a candidate for the Place 3 seat.
“I don’t agree with a 3 percent pay raise, because if I have a bus driver who is barely making 15- (thousand) to 20-thousand a year and he gets a 3 percent and Dr. Craft is getting a 3 percent — he’s making $256,000 plus he gets other amenities,” Nairn said. “Our bus drivers do not get paid for gas, travel or living expenses. And when we talk about comparable school districts, well, I look at our scores. Our scores are not commensurate with comparable school districts. Comparable school districts do not have the special education fiasco that we have. So I do see it’s a problem. ... At the last forum, it was said he did not create the problem, but what has he done to resolve this problem?”
Floyd, a Place 1 candidate, agreed with Nairn.
“I’m not opposed to pay raises, but I am opposed to pay raises for officials who are not achieving real results,” Floyd said. “If you look at the nature of the school district in the last 12 to 24 months, there’s been an awful lot going on in our school district. At the end of the day, at the head of any organization, the buck stops with its leader.
“If we are to hold our school district accountable for the progress and for the things going on in our district — how can we justify a salary increase for a superintendent who has seen a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed, bullying increase, all while the special education department continues to be in shambles ... so justifying a pay raise for a superintendent, in my opinion, would be quite difficult to do.”
Allen, a Place 2 candidate, said she thought the money for Craft’s raise could be better spent, but at the same time knows a contract is a legally binding document.
“That’s the contract he negotiated with the current board,” Allen said. “I think we need to spend our money on experienced teachers. He’s paid quite well, but a contract is a contract. That’s just the way it is.”