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.