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By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The Starkville School District recently offered newly named Superintendent Lewis Holloway a four-year contract at $175,000 a year, making him the highest paid superintendent in the state, at least for now.
SSD school board President Keith Coble said the board felt Hollowayâ€™s nearly 30 years of superintendent experience and a competitive market justified the price, though the board was prepared to offer more.
â€śThe board felt that if we were comfortable with a candidate, then we were committed to going aggressively after that person. We felt like we were competing with a number of other similar districts in the state,â€ť Coble said. â€śWe got a very experienced superintendent who has a lot of years of experience, and that was a primary factor in the decision.â€ť
The top earner for the 2011-2012 school year was Jackson Public Superintendent Jayne Sargent, who takes in $160,417. Hollowayâ€™s salary will top Sargentâ€™s by nearly $15,000.
â€śI fully intend to earn it,â€ť Holloway said. â€śWith my experience, I wonâ€™t have to look things up because Iâ€™ve already lived it. Thatâ€™s how I look at it, and how a person on the street looks at it â€” I can see that too. But I hope the work that we do here will be recognizable.â€ť
By comparison, Columbus Superintendent Martha Liddell earns $135,6000; West Point Superintendent Burnell McDonald earns $115,000; Hattiesburg Superintendent James Bacchus earns $150,000; Oktibbeha County Superintendent James Covington earns $90,882; Gulfport Superintendent Glen East earns $126,069; and Meridian Superintendent Alvin Taylor earns $135,000. The previous SSD Superintendent, Judy Couey, earned $130,000 per year. Appointed superintendents tend to earn significantly more than their elected counterparts.
The superintendent of the stateâ€™s largest school district, DeSoto County, makes $152,268 annually with a district enrollment of 31,228 students in 2011. The district was rated â€śhigh performingâ€ť in 2011. The SSD had an enrollment of 4,128 in 2011 and had a rating of â€śsuccessful.â€ť
Holloway said if he and the board both felt he was the right fit for the job, they would be able to work out a reasonable deal.
â€śRegardless of what my salary is, I am revenue-positive. That I can assure you,â€ť Holloway said. â€śWhat I am going to save the school district in special education lawsuits, building issues, in technology, in teaching â€” my commitment is to earn much more than my salary every year in putting back resources in the school. This is an investment, and I hope and pray I live up to that investment every day.â€ť
Holloway is coming to SSD from the Bulloch County School District in Georgia, where he is also earning a considerable salary. Coble said his previous salary and fringe benefits offered in Georgia went into the consideration of their offer.
â€śSome states provide a credit card, an automobile, term life insurance policies for their superintendents. Usually, the practice in Mississippi is to set the superintendentâ€™s salary that would compensate for some of those benefits,â€ť board attorney Dolton McAlpin said. â€śI was not in on the negotiations of salary, but I suspect the salary was set at a level that he could buy some of those things that his other school district provided.â€ť
McAlpin said Hollowayâ€™s benefits include annual leave, payment of professional dues and a computer. All of the benefits have been included in the contracts of previous superintendents.
Holloway may not maintain his top-earner status for long, as several other districts across the state are searching for new superintendents, including Tupelo, whose last superintendent earned $177,000.
SSD was competing with districts all over the state for the best candidates. Coble said the board knew the district would have to offer a competitive salary, but Hollowayâ€™s contract is not out of range for the districtâ€™s budget.
â€śIn terms of salary, we understood that the market for a superintendent was going to be tight,â€ť Coble said. â€śWe had some discussion about the range we were willing to pay, and we fell well within that range.â€ť