The 2019 list of superintendent salaries released by the Oklahoma State Board of Education in November contained some surprising numbers, including a pay cut for a long-time administrator.
Salaries and compensation packages are determined by local school board members, who work to keep the districts financially sound while securing qualified leadership.
Lorraine Walker has been on the Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education since 2016, and is now vice president. She knows the board has to be careful when making decisions regarding the district's money. This month, TPS Superintendent Leon Ashlock received an approximate $14,000 increase for the 2020-2021 school year.
"We are happy with the job Mr. Ashlock is doing. We did renew a three-year contract. We looked at that job security as part of the compensation," she said. "It gives us room to make increases as we review the position in the next few years."
Walker said factors board members consider include the person's experience and the time he or she has been in the district.
Jerry Hooper has served on the Keys School board for four years, and he agreed experience is a key element.
"We want to make sure they are compensated, but not overcompensated. For what our superintendent does, I still think he's underpaid. It's competitive to what other K-12 supers make, but even lower than some K-8," said Hooper. "People may think, 'How can they make that much?' But after you're in the system and see what all they do, it's justified."
Hooper said when he first got on the board, the district was laying off employees due to state budget cuts. Positions have been filled in recent years, and Hooper thinks Keys is financially better off since Vol Woods became superintendent.
"We talk the most about renewal. I don't think we've increased the salary since Mr. Woods came to Keys," he said.
One Cherokee County superintendent is making about $150,000 less now than in previous years. The investigative journalism team for Oklahoma Watch listed Peggs School Superintendent (Rodney) John Cox's total compensation package for 2017-2018 as $166,268. The State Board of Education shows Cox with total compensation, as of November 2019, of just $14,700.
Erin Corbin, communication specialist with the state board, said the salaries are reported by the school districts.
"They are self-reported district numbers. We are given those numbers and they are verified," said Corbin.
Cox, who has been at Peggs for 26 years, explained the drastic change was due to his retirement in June 2019, and then being rehired part-time after the mandatory 60-day separation. He will now make the most allowed by Social Security, but said he is still doing just as much work as before.
"I appreciate they value me and allowed me to come back. I came back to pay back the community for taking care of me all these years," said Cox.
Records show he receives a salary as both principal and superintendent, which is not uncommon in smaller schools. Carolyn Robbins is another retired part-timer who assists Cox.
The total pay has to be split as 60 percent as superintendent, and 40 percent as principal.
"It's a small district, and we all wear many hats. It's really a 365-day position. Even when you are not there a day, you are still making sure everything is taken care of," said Cox. "It's competitive to find superintendents. That's one reason the salaries are at that level."
The following information is based on the Oklahoma State Board of Education October 2019 enrollment numbers and November 2019 salary reports. In some cases, as with Ashlock, raises may have been given.
• Briggs School has 494 students; Stephen Haynes has a superintendent base salary of $115,000, and benefits package of $18,000. His total compensation is $133,000.
• Cherokee Immersion (Charter) School lists 120 students, and Leroy Qualls has a superintendent base salary of $115,927, with a benefits package of $6,139. His total compensation is $122,066.
• Grand View School reports 593 students, and George (Ed) Kennedy has a principal base salary of $40,257; superintendent base salary of $79,764; and benefits package of $33,536. His total compensation is $153,557.
• Hulbert Public Schools shows 543 students. Nicholas (Scott) Kempenich has a superintendent base salary of $95,000, and benefits package of $16,454. The total compensation is $111,454.
• Keys Public Schools has 679 students, and Vol Woods shows a superintendent base salary of $125,000, plus a benefits package of $6,994. The total compensation is $131,994.
• Lowrey School reported 127 students, and Cris Wyse has a principal base salary of $34,000; superintendent base salary of $51,000; and benefits package of $13,639. The total compensation is $98,639.
• Norwood School enrolled 150, and Norman (Keith) Fisher has a principal base salary of $40,101; superintendent base salary of $60,151; and benefits package of $10,110. His total compensation is $110,362.
• Peggs School had 210 students on the roster, and Cox showed a principal base salary of $5,880 and superintendent base salary of $8,820. The total compensation is $14,700.
• Shady Grove School enrolled 153, and Emmett Thompson has a principal base salary of $28,000; superintendent base salary of $42,000; and benefits package of $11,959. The total compensation is $81,959.
• Tahlequah Public Schools had 3,663 students at reporting time. Leon Ashlock had a superintendent base salary of $116,200, and benefits package of $17,437. The total compensation for him was $133,637, but he just received the $14,000 package hike.
• Tenkiller School had 256 students, and Marilyn Dewoody shows a principal base salary of $15,000; superintendent base salary of $75,000; and benefits package of $13,941. Her total compensation is $103,941.
• Woodall School had 446 students. Linda Clinkenbeard shows a superintendent base salary of $119,146, and benefits package of $12,568. Her total compensation is $131,714.