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Why did RISD Trustees grant Dr. Burton a $75,000 increase in one year?

ROCKWALL – Why did the Rockwall ISD Board of Trustees agree to increase now retired Superintendent Dr. Gene Burton’s compensation by $75,000 in one year, from $250,000 to $325,000 (30%), in March, 2009 – especially when during that same year the Board approved a $7.8 million deficit budget for the District?

That’s a question that RISD School Board candidates Stephanie Adams, Randy Oakes (above right) and many other prospective voters are now asking as we head into this Saturday’s school board election.

Since school financing is now such a major issue, Oakes and Adams have been putting incumbent Board candidate Dr. Stan Lowrance on the hot-seat asking for answers since he was one of the seven board members who voted unanimously for Dr. Burton’s pay increase.

“Stan Lowrance and the seated board of 2009 chose to give the then Superintendent Dr. Burton a 30 percent pay raise of $75,000, bringing his salary to $325,000,” wrote Oakes on his campaign Facebook page, entitled RandyOakes innovate2educate our kids.

“When was the last time you received or gave such a raise when your duties have not changed or your job title?”

“Ref(erence) the Board Meeting Minutes dated March 23, 2009 on Page 2 Item C below. Please share this fact – it was YOUR money.”

“Houston ISD Superintendent 2009-2010 earned $300,000 with a student population of 202,773. Rockwall ISD Superintendent 2009-2010 Dr. Gene Burton earned $325,000 with a student population of 13,843. You can generate this report on the TEA web site here is a link below that describes how you do it and screen capture of the reports. Or go direct: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/adpea.html

“I serve the kids first,” he stated.

Adams also outlined the pay increase in a recent communication she sent to prospective voters across Rockwall ISD.

“According to the TEA website (http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/adpea.html), in 2007-2008, our Former Superintendent was ranked 32nd in the State with FTE (Full Time Employee) pay at $225,000 overseeing 13,064 students.”

“In 2008-2009, he ranked 23rd. His pay was $250,000 with 13,497 students.”

In 2009-2010, he ranked 5th among the Highest Paid Superintendents in the State. His pay was $325,000, with enrollment at 13,843, which equates to a 30% increase in pay and a 2% increase in enrollment.”

According to a recent report provided by Rockwall ISD, the same year our Board approved a $7.8 million dollar deficit budget for the District.

(Source:http://rockwallisd.com/Portals/0/Documents/FI/FI_Board_work_session_2-7-11.pdf)

The Texas Association of School Boards provides a great article regarding Superintendent salaries.Click here to view the article at: TASB.org:http://www.tasb.org/services/hr_services/hrexchange/2009/Dec09/tx_trends_supt_pay.aspx

Adams added that she thinks the bigger issues here are fiscal responsibility and transparency, which in this case about Dr. Burton’s increase seem to be lacking.

“I think the bigger issue here is fiscal responsibility in a year our board approved an enormous deficit budget, she wrote. “At our last forum, the incumbent stated he has served on the Finance Committee for the past three years. If he is referring to Section 3.2 of the Superintendents contract ( and the former contract was structured similar to our current Superintendent’s contract), it is Salary Adjustments.

“Basically, it states that the Board can, at its discretion, review and adjust the salary of the Superintendent at any time during the contract.  At no time can the adjustment be less than what is stated in Section 3.1 of the Superintendent Contract.”

“Two weeks ago at a debate hosted by TheRockwallnews.com, I spoke about transparency and a recent experience at the School Board Meeting I had attended the previous night. The financial report, budget amendments and consideration of Superintendent’s contract renewal were voted unanimously as consent agenda items.”

“As I mentioned in the debate, consent agenda items are usually reserved for the less controversial and routine items of an agenda. If no discussion is brought forth by a Board Member, the items are voted together. It was a unanimous vote.”

“During this entire campaign, one of my key issues has been transparency. While I understand and respect the privacy of Executive Sessions and personnel matters, it is our Board’s responsibility to parents, staff, and taxpayers to answer difficult questions as it relates to their voting decisions while serving on the Board.”

“I believe we can learn from the past and look to the future. If elected, I will work toward protecting children and taxpayers by providing greater fiscal responsibility and transparency in decisions such as these,” Adams concluded.

Attempting to answer the question, TheRockwallNews.com asked Dr. Lowrance for comments. But the Board Trustee, who’s been a dentist in Rockwall for 30 years and served on several local boards, answered that by law he cannot comment.

“Each year the Board determines the contract and salary of the superintendent,” wrote Dr. Lowrance, in an email.

“The compensation that you are referring to was a direct result between the entire Board and Dr. Burton under 3.2 of his contract.”

“As you may know, no individual Board member, by law, may comment or discuss any items discussed in executive session.”

“This is a personnel issue and needs to be directed to the administration office.”

That is true. By law, he can’t divulge the details.

So TheRockwallNews.com did contact Administration and RISD Communications Director Sheri Fowler wrote back, saying that “the board did not grant a percentage increase, but tied his increase to specific additional duties.”

“Here is the information I have gathered regarding your recent request,” she wrote.

“The Board of Trustees and Dr. Burton entered into contract negotiations in accordance with Paragraph 3.2 of his contract dated July 1, 2008.  As a result of the negotiations, Dr. Burton’s duties were expanded beyond the existing contractual obligations and responsibilities and these were recorded in an Addendum to Agreement. At that time, a percentage increase to Dr. Burton’s salary was not authorized by the Board.

“All additional duties assigned to Dr. Burton were compensated in accordance with the Addendum, effective December 1, 2008 through May 31, 2009.  Based on the increase in duties, it was the Board’s conclusion at the time that the Addendum served the best interests of the District and its students.”

“Mr. Bailey’s subsequent contract was negotiated at a lower salary.”

So two days before the election, at least a partial answer has been uncovered. Dr. Burton’s compensation was increased because he was assigned and accepted “additional duties.”

Problem is, at this point, we’re still attempting to find out what those additional duties were.

Concerned Rockwall ISD residents might be interested to learn that the majority of school district superintendents are now paid lower salaries but receive performance bonuses based upon their “achievement of performance objectives.”

Dr. Burton, for example, was frequently lauded for his many achievements.

According to the Texas Association of School Boards:

“Like teachers, more districts are implementing strategic pay practices for their superintendents. Ten percent of superintendents received bonus pay this year compared to only six percent last year. This number represents the first noticeable increase in bonus pay for superintendents in several years. The 10 percent figure includes only bonuses that were actually paid in 2009–10. The average superintendent bonus is five percent of salary ($6,468).”

“More districts have initiated the practice this year with potential payouts scheduled for 2010–11 based on goals reached during the 2009–10 school year. Most superintendent bonuses are based on achievement of performance objectives while others are paid as retention incentives. Large districts use bonus pay more often. Nearly a quarter of districts with more than 50,000 students paid a bonus to their superintendent in 2009–10.”

If  voters want more transparency, they apparently will have to continue to dig deep for answers unless laws are changed that currently prevent school board members from telling us what we want to know.  Until then we’ll just have to continue to trust the Trustees whom we elect. That’s why Saturday’s school board election is so important.

By J.J. Smith, Publisher

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4 Responses for “Why did RISD Trustees grant Dr. Burton a $75,000 increase in one year?”

  1. Jim, to answer your question….I am! I am proud to be running as a candidate for Rockwall ISD School Board. I do believe in our community, our school district, our administration/staff, and OUR KIDS! One of the many reasons, we moved to this community years ago was the quality of education we heard was provided all children! I have a unique perspective, as a local Realtor. I understand how property values and taxes affect our school budget. I also understand the importance of good schools and lower tax rates, as those are two of the most common questions asked when people relocate to our community! I am also a former District Manager of a Third Party Real Estate Management Company. I oversaw multimillion dollar budgets and worked with many people at different levels.

    As a parent, taxpayer, and realtor in our community, I am concerned when I learn of decisions like this one! According to the data provided by Texas Education Agency, our former Superintendent’ salary increased during 2008-09 and again, in 2009-10, the same year our Board approved a $7.8 million dollar deficit budget! I am running for School Board in an effort to make the classroom a priority, to offer greater fiscal responsibility and common sense solutions to the budget challenges facing our district, to continue the high quality of education provided to our children and also provide more transparency as it relates to decisions such as these! I believe we can learn from the past, and look to the future! I hope you exercise your right to vote!

    Respectfully,
    Stephanie Adams

  2. Jim says:

    With Passionate Patriot’s math, we should be paying our superintendent $31,350? You can’t base pay off # of students. I will tell you that a HUGE reason I moved to Rockwall was to avoid having to put my kids in a school district like Dallas. The school district gave you an answer. If you don’t like it, move to Dallas where the student to superintendent pay is more in line to your liking. I’ll take better test grades and better quality of staff anyday. If Dr. Lowrance is the problem, then so are all the other school board members. Who’s running against them? NO ONE.

  3. Passionate Patriot says:

    I have heard the reason for the massive bump in his salary for the last six months of his tenture with Rockwall ISD was to boost his retirement pay (computed on the highest pay) which, if true, puts us–or someone– on the hook for a higher salary for the rest of Dr. Burton’s life. Can this be substantiated?

    It is outrageous that a superintendent overseeing fewer than 15,000 students in a district would receive a salary equivalent to a superintendent overseeing 150,000 plus student; e.g., Hinojosa in Dallas ISD received $328,000 overseeing 157,000 students. To break that down to a per student cost, it costs Rockwall taxpayers $23.48 per student and $2.09 per student in Dallas. We must insist on fiscal sanity at all levels of government. This includes our school board members.

  4. Chuck says:

    I will not vote for Lowrance. He along with the other members of the school board should all face the music of how the spend taxpayers money. This raise of $75,000 is in no way justified based on the pay of what other superintendent’s receive who have much larger school districts.

    What is a slap in the face to us is the fact that the school had a large deficit and now all school districts will get less money from the State because of the recession. The board should look to cut not teachers but cut the FAT salaries of the superintendents.

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