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 Holloway’s nearly 30 years of superintendent experience and a competitive market justified the price, though the board was prepared to offer more.
“The 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,” Coble said. “We got a very experienced superintendent who has a lot of years of experience, and that was a primary factor in the decision.”
The top earner for the 2011-2012 school year was Jackson Public Superintendent Jayne Sargent, who takes in $160,417. Holloway’s salary will top Sargent’s by nearly $15,000.
“I fully intend to earn it,” Holloway said. “With my experience, I won’t have to look things up because I’ve already lived it. That’s how I look at it, and how a person on the street looks at it — I can see that too. But I hope the work that we do here will be recognizable.”
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 state’s largest school district, DeSoto County, makes $152,268 annually with a district enrollment of 31,228 students in 2011. The district was rated “high performing” in 2011. The SSD had an enrollment of 4,128 in 2011 and had a rating of “successful.”
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.
“Regardless of what my salary is, I am revenue-positive. That I can assure you,” Holloway said. “What I am going to save the school district in special education lawsuits, building issues, in technology, in teaching — 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.”
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.
“Some states provide a credit card, an automobile, term life insurance policies for their superintendents. Usually, the practice in Mississippi is to set the superintendent’s salary that would compensate for some of those benefits,” board attorney Dolton McAlpin said. “I 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.”
McAlpin said Holloway’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 Holloway’s contract is not out of range for the district’s budget.
“In terms of salary, we understood that the market for a superintendent was going to be tight,” Coble said. “We had some discussion about the range we were willing to pay, and we fell well within that range.”