The Killeen school superintendent got a raise recently.
That’s not really news. After his tireless work to win passage of last year’s $426 million bond package for school construction, he certainly earned one.
But the size of the raise — more than $42,000 on top of his previous $267,700 salary — has had area residents talking, and with good reason.
The raise amounted to a nearly 16 percent bump in pay.
Further, the amount of the raise was nearly an entire year’s salary for a starting Killeen Independent School District teacher — and well above those of many support personnel.
School board members defended their decision, noting that increasing Superintendent John Craft’s salary to $310,000 annually was simply putting his pay in line with the state average for larger districts.
If numbers alone were the determining factor, board members would have a point. After all, a Texas Association of School Boards survey of starting superintendent salaries showed the median base pay for districts of similar size is $295,000.
Further, salaries in Houston- and Dallas- area districts with student enrollments similar to KISD’s ranged from $325,000 to $345,000. So from that perspective, Craft’s new salary could be viewed as being below average.
But the fact remains, Killeen’s not Dallas. And it’s not Houston.
With the exception of Austin, which has 80,000 students and pays its superintendent just under $311,000, other area districts pay much lower salaries. Waco’s superintendent earns $272,000 annually, Bryan pays $232,000 and Temple offers $212,000.
Admittedly, the enrollments of those other districts are far lower than Killeen’s 47,000 students, ranging from 9,000 in Temple to 16,000 in Waco. Still, the Killeen community has a relatively low cost of living when compared to large urban areas of the state.
Even if it could be argued that a $310,000 annual salary is appropriate for a community of this size, it would be hard to justify boosting the superintendent’s salary by 15.8 percent in one fell swoop.
It has to be especially difficult for district teachers to swallow — coming less than a year after the district suggested a 3 percent raise, but after the bond issue passed, it was reduced to 2 percent, with board members explaining that was all KISD could afford.
Since the 2014-2015 school year, Killeen teachers have received raises annually, but they’ve all been between 2 and 3 percent. Teachers also receive an $1,175 increase in five-year increments, according to district spokesman Terry Abbott.
However, since Craft was officially named superintendent in early 2015, his salary has increased from $240,000 to the current $310,000. That’s a jump of $70,000, or 29.2 percent.
To be fair, Craft’s starting salary in 2015 was $16,000 less than that of his predecessor, Robert Muller, who left the district to take a teaching position at Texas A&M University. But Muller had several more years of administrative experience compared to Craft, who had been with the district just two years when he was given the top spot on an interim basis in July 2014. He was chosen as the district’s superintendent a few months later.
Certainly, Craft has racked up some significant achievements during his tenure as superintendent. He was instrumental in establishing the Early College High School program, which has enjoyed great success and become a model for other districts. Craft also created and expanded the STEM Program. The STEM concept — focusing on science, technology, engineering and math — began at Shoemaker High School for students in grades nine through 12 and is now offered to middle school students as well through the district’s STEM Academy. Craft also expanded the district’s Career Center and expanded its programs.
That’s not including his successful effort to gain voter approval of the $426 million bond issue that will fund the building of five new schools — including a new high school — as well as renovations and safety upgrades to others.
Still, the district has been plagued by lagging scores on state-mandated standardized tests and less-than-optimum graduation rates. Whether any of that can be laid at the feet of the superintendent is debatable, but it’s certainly a discussion worth having.
Ultimately, the decision on how much of a raise to give the superintendent — or even whether to give one at all — rests with the school board. Technically, the board members are the superintendent’s employers.
That much was evident when the board spent more than three hours in closed session at its last meeting, with all seven members reviewing Craft individually.
In the end, the board was unanimous in its decision to extend Craft’s contract by two years to 2023 and to give the superintendent a $42,287 annual pay raise to bring his salary into line with larger districts.
But the big question remains: Why did the board feel compelled to do it all at once?
According to statistics from the TASB, the average annual superintendent’s raise last year was just over 3 percent. Needless to say, Craft’s increase was more than five times that rate.
Certainly, even a 5 percent raise — an increase of about $13,385 — would have been viewed as a strong endorsement and symbol of appreciation, without drawing the kind of attention the larger raise has generated.
If the board was concerned that Craft might start looking into other job opportunities, that’s understandable. But authorizing a nearly 16 percent raise for the superintendent while pinching pennies with teacher salaries simply sends the wrong message.
As the contract has been finalized and signed, there’s not much to be gained by arguing about it at this point.
But just as Craft technically works for the school board, the board members technically work for the taxpayers — and the district’s voters.
District residents who want to weigh in on the subject can do so at the polls, as three board seats are contested in the May 4 election.
The Herald will also offer area residents the opportunity to hear school board members and their challengers discuss this and other district issues at a candidate forum on March 18. The event will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
It could be argued that raises are simply a personnel matter and shouldn’t be subject to public discussion.
That’s generally true — unless taxpayers are the ones writing the paycheck.