By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
7:10 PM EDT, July 28, 2013
The Baltimore school system paid nearly $150,000 in accrued leave this month to former CEO Andrés Alonso, a lump sum outlined in his contract that a compensation expert said reflects an overly generous package that should have been scrutinized when it was approved.
City school board Chairwoman Shanaysha Sauls said Alonso accrued $147,931 in unused vacation, sick and personal leave days, $94,683 of which he pocketed after taxes and deductions.
Alonso announced his resignation in May but did not give 90 days' notice as required by his contract, a provision the school board waived without penalty. He completed a six-year term on June 30, two years' shy of when his most recent contract expired.
"We are very pleased with the job he did and the commitment to our children over the last six years, and we wish him well," Sauls said. The school district declined to supply a breakdown of his leave, calling it a "personnel matter."
But compensation experts criticized the school system's decision not to divulge specifics, particularly when the price could seem jarring to taxpayers.
"When you get to more than $100,000 in accumulated leave, that's very surprising," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a researcher of superintendent contracts. "And if the school board is not willing to give a breakdown to substantiate it, it raises a lot of questions."
Spalding said it would be helpful to see specifics of how such leave is accrued.
"If he did earn it, it was a lucrative contract that the school board handed out to the point of being irresponsible," Spalding said.
Alonso did not return calls seeking comment.
Neil Duke, former chair of the school board who led contract negotiations with Alonso in 2011, said the terms reflected the kind of leader the district needed.
"The school district should always strive to do what is in the best interests of its students and that applies to selecting and retaining the best possible leader, especially given the complexity and challenges in governing our particular district," Duke said in an email.
He said the board negotiated and approved the contract, which was consistent with previous superintendent contracts. He also pointed out that Alonso's six-year tenure far exceeded that of his predecessors and the three-year national average for urban superintendents.
"If you want to attract and retain the absolute best, then you allow the market, and precedent, to dictate fair terms," he said. "We were fortunate to hire and retain the best superintendent in the country at a time that our district was at a real crossroads."
At the time of his resignation, Alonso's salary of $260,000 was the second-highest of the state's superintendents, according to the salaries reported by the Maryland State Department of Education.
The highest-paid was Charles County's superintendent, who left this year at a salary of $289,000 after 17 years.
Alonso's 2007 and 2011 contracts 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 the 12 sick days he received annually.
Salary records obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that Alonso cashed in $2,000 worth of sick days in 2011 and $3,000 in 2010.
Accrued leave cash-outs are not a rarity in superintendent contracts, and in several large school districts, like New York City, they are significantly higher, said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association.
Domenech said that accrued leave is usually built into contracts because it is widely understood that superintendents rarely take a considerable amount of time off.
"What people fail to understand very often is that the superintendent seat is a 24/7 job," Domenech said. "It is a very time-consuming, high-stress position, and when you compare it to the private sector, anybody running an enterprise the size of Baltimore would be making millions.
"If you're the average citizen who is making less than $100,000 a year, you look at that and say that's a lot of money," he added. "But when you look at CEOs around the country, it's peanuts."
But Alonso's perks had become a point of contention in the school district — which serves one of the poorest and lowest-performing student populations in the state — particularly when The Baltimore Sun found that his driver made a higher salary than the mayor or the governor when his overtime was added in.
Other perks in Alonso's contract included a car and a $750 monthly stipend for automotive expenses. He also received another annual payment equivalent to 40 percent of his salary — $104,000 for each of the past two years — that under his contract was to be paid into a "supplemental income program" of his choice.
The schools chief also was given performance bonuses of $29,000 per year under his first contract, which he earned in each of his first three years. This year, the administrators union urged him to return the bonuses in light of allegations Alonso made that schools had cheated during the time he was awarded for rising test scores.
Alonso's 2011 contract did not outline specific bonuses, and he did not receive them in his last two years in the district. But the contract did increase his annual contribution of supplemental income from 35 percent of his salary to 40 percent.
Sauls said the board is not required to provide any payments beyond the unused leave, although per his most recent contract, the school system will pay Alonso's health insurance benefits until it is confirmed that he receives them at his next job.
The board said Alonso's accomplishments, particularly the General Assembly's passage this year of a landmark plan to fund the system's 10-year infrastructure plan, contributed to its decision to allow him to give less than 60 days' notice of his resignation.
His contract called for 90 days' notice, but the waiver allowed him to break his contract without penalty.
Spalding also questioned that move.
"If the board is bending over backward to give this guy a golden parachute when he goes out the door, it does raise questions about them holding administrators accountable," she said.
In Anne Arundel County, departing Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's contract required him to pay the system $20,000 because he did not give 90 days' notice. After seven years in the county, Maxwell left before his contract was to expire in 2014 to take the helm of Prince George's County schools.
Like Alonso, Maxwell received a car stipend to pay for all vehicle costs and contributions into supplemental income accounts; however, he did not have a driver and the contributions into such accounts were capped at $20,000 annually.
Prince George's County will pay $15,000 of Maxwell's penalty, and he will have $5,000 deducted from his accrued-leave pay, according to Anne Arundel officials.
According to Maxwell's $257,000 contract, he could accrue and cash out 47 days of vacation, sick and personal days per year. However, he could not accumulate more than 15 personal days total and was not entitled to cash out the personal days if he left the district.
A longtime educator in Maryland, Maxwell had previously accrued 261 days of sick leave in other school districts, which he was able to transfer to Anne Arundel County.
The final tally of Maxwell's accrued leave was not available because his last day isn't until Wednesday.
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