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Maryland’s state schools superintendent received a boost in pay with new contract

Karen Salmon, state schools superintendent, discusses Maryland's coronavirus response during a news conference at the State House in Annapolis on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.
Karen Salmon, state schools superintendent, discusses Maryland's coronavirus response during a news conference at the State House in Annapolis on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

The Maryland state school board gave superintendent Karen Salmon a $40,000 pay raise on July 1 when it signed a new contract that allows her to stay on the job for the next year.

Salmon’s annual salary rose to $275,000, according to public records obtained by The Baltimore Sun, a 17% increase.

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Her four-year contract expired June 30, and late last year she told, Brig. Gen. Warner I. Sumpter, the school board president at the time, that she would not be seeking another four-year contract.

However, after the pandemic hobbled the search for a new superintendent, the board announced in March that Salmon had agreed to stay if a replacement could not be found by July 1. Then just a few weeks later, the board announced it was keeping Salmon for another year.

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Salmon could not receive a salary increase in the four years of her contract, according to Clarence Crawford, who was elected president of the state school board last month. Crawford said the $40,000 increase amounts to a 4% annual increase for the term of her service and “more fairly provides salary parity nationally, as well as locally within Maryland.”

He noted she will be paid less than the superintendents in at least three local school systems in the state.

“We are grateful for her personal sacrifice and continued leadership during this unparalleled public health crisis,” said Crawford, adding that Salmon agreed to stay on rather than retire.

Education advocates and legislators, however, have been critical of her handling of education policy issues during the pandemic. Education activists have said she has been a weak leader who failed to give school system leaders clear direction, and has not ensured that all school children in the state — particularly those with disabilities or without internet — are given an education this fall.

The Maryland State Department of Education provided The Sun with the amendment to Salmon’s 2016 contract more than a month after The Sun requested it. Superintendent contracts are public information, and local school systems routinely provide the public with superintendent contract details within hours after they are signed.

After MSDE waited weeks to turn over the document, The Sun asked for help from Maryland’s Public Access Ombudsman’s office. A week after the Ombudsman’s office initiated contact with the department, the department provided a portion of the request.

In Maryland, school superintendent contracts are prescribed in law as four-year terms. Superintendents must inform their boards by late fall if they will seek another term. Last fall, Sumpter said Salmon had done “a tremendous job” and likely would have received a second contract if she had requested it by Dec. 1.

When she arrived in 2016 after serving as Talbot County’s superintendent, Salmon was the fourth person in five years to hold the state superintendent position.

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