Dr. Gregory Thornton is introduced as the new CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools at John Eager Howard Elementary School. He was previously the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)

The Baltimore school board voted Tuesday to give a four-year contract worth more than $1 million to Gregory Thornton, the Milwaukee administrator introduced last month as the next superintendent of the school system.

The contract, approved unanimously by the board, includes a base salary of $290,000 for Thornton, who takes his post July 1. That salary is tied with that of the Prince George's County schools superintendent, currently the highest-paid superintendent in Maryland, state salary records show.

Thornton is also due to receive annual contributions equal to 11 percent of his salary to a deferred account of his choosing, according to the contract dated March 5 and obtained by The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. The contract became official after the board's vote Tuesday.

He will also receive $22,000 in relocation expenses, and will be eligible for unspecified performance bonuses and raises at the board's discretion.

School Board Chairwoman Shanaysha Sauls called the contract "reasonable, competitive and commensurate with our expectations."

"It provides for accountability and autonomy, and we are thrilled to have Dr. Thornton on board," she said.

The contract requires Thornton to submit annual performance goals by Sept. 1, and his evaluation is to be considered a public document unless he and the board agree otherwise.

The four-year deal, which ends in June 2018, differs slightly from that of former city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, whose contract included perks that drew criticism.

Thornton is to receive 25 vacation days, 18 sick days and three personal days a year, with the ability to cash in a portion of his accrued leave at the end of the year or when he leaves the job. He can accrue up to 40 vacation days, all personal leave, and one of every four sick days he has earned and cash them out when his contract is up.

Alonso's leave was a point of contention. The Sun found that he broke the contract without penalty and cashed out nearly $150,000 in leave pay when he resigned last year.

Alonso's 2007 and 2011 contracts had few leave limitations and allowed him to cash out all of the 24 vacation days and 12 personal days he received annually if he didn't use them. He could also cash out three of his 12 sick days annually.

Thornton's deal includes a $750,000 life insurance policy; Alonso's was $500,000.

Thornton, who drives himself in Milwaukee, will not have a driver in Baltimore. He will receive a $700 monthly automobile allowance for costs associated with his personal vehicle. He receives $800 a month in Milwaukee.

The school system provided Alonso with a driver, a separate car and a $750 monthly stipend for automotive expenses.

The longtime perk of a full-time driver for the city superintendent came under fire during Alonso's administration. The Sun found that the $78,000 the driver earned in overtime pay bumped the driver's salary above that of the governor and the mayor.

When Alonso arrived in 2007, having never served as a superintendent, he signed a $230,000 contract that provided annual raises and up to $30,000 in performance bonuses per year.

At the time of his resignation, Alonso's salary of $260,000 was the second-highest among the state's superintendents. He also received annual contributions equivalent to 40 percent of his salary to a supplemental income account.

Thornton earned a base salary of $265,000 in Milwaukee and an annual supplemental income of $30,000 that he could divert to a fund of his choice. His health benefits in Milwaukee included reimbursement for a gym membership at $800 a year, according to a copy of his contract.

Alonso's contract was written to preserve his autonomy — he publicly demanded free rein in running the school system. It forbade board members from giving direction to him or staff regarding the management of the school system.

Thornton's contract contains the same stipulation, but also says he and the board "shall work with each other in the spirit of cooperation."

Alonso's former chief of staff, Tisha Edwards, signed a $225,000 contract last summer to serve as interim CEO for a year. Her contract, which included the same perks as Alonso's, ends June 30.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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