Phenix City School Board approves superintendent contract

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By Toni Stauffer

The Phenix City School Board approved to revise the contract for Superintendent Randy Wilkes. The vote occurred at the July 27 board meeting. Board members Patricia Alexander, Fran Ellis, and Will Lawrence voted no to the new contract. Board President Mesha Patrick, Vice President Brady Baird, Samuel Estrada, and Todd Stanfill voted yes. 

The Citizen obtained its copy of the contract from Superintendent Wilkes, who said, “Regarding my contract, the community needs to know I am happy to continue my service as Superintendent of Phenix City Schools. We are proud of our success (most recent – 340 score on AdvancEd, scholarship earnings of more than $20 million, Alabama graduation rate of 99 percent, and significant improvement in test scores) and look forward to continuous growth.” Wilkes also received the prestigious Alabama Superintendent of the Year award in 2018. 

According to Board President Mesha Patrick, the Board decided to revise the contract in the best interest of the board and the school system. The original contract, which was set to expire in 2021, has now been extended to June 30, 2022 and may be renewed, or extended, if both the board and the superintendent agree. The extension is due to the election of a new school board in 2020. Previous school boards were appointed.  

“The superintendent’s contract would have been up within the first six months of the new board coming on,” Board President Dr. Mesha Patrick said. “It takes time for a new board to get to know each other. We felt like there wasn’t going to be enough time for the new board to get to know him and negotiate a fair and equitable contract to protect him and the school system. We just added that time to allow the new board to get through that honeymoon phase and to give them time to gain a little bit more experience. We don’t know who is going to be on the board, but we are getting a completely new board and need that continuity.”

A large point of contention was the changing of the terms for the $30,000 longevity bonus, which was due as a lump sum payment at the end of Wilkes’ five-year contract signed in 2016. The 2016 board had considered raising that amount to $50,000, but in the end decided against it because the only other city-system that had a longevity bonus was Alabaster which has a larger tax base than Phenix City. 

In the latest revision, the board decided instead to parse the longevity payments out, so that the superintendent will receive an additional $1,363.64 per month from July 2019 until April 2021. Patrick said this was done to be fair due to retirement calculations. The automatic pay increase based on a pay raise enacted by the Alabama Legislature won’t apply to these longevity payments. 

“Everyone was given the opportunity to participate in the negotiation process,” Patrick said. “We had two committees that were formed. Everyone who did not participate in the first committee was asked point-blank if they would be willing to serve on that committee. The board president has to serve on the committee. The only other person who said he could serve was Reverend Baird.” 

Patrick said revising the contract was a long process of back and forth with negotiations; also, several e-mails went out to board members, asking for feedback or anything they felt like they wanted to see implemented or changed in the contract. 

“Everyone was given an opportunity to give input,” Patrick added. 

As of July 1, the superintendent’s salary rose to from $165,000 to $175,890, an increase of $10,890. Previously, the board had raised the superintendent’s salary by nine percent in 2016 – from $147,664 to $165,000, an increase of $17,336. Patrick said this last increase in salary is not a raise by the board, but that when the state votes to give employees in the school system a raise the superintendent also gets a raise. She said that this amount reflects that fact. 

Other benefits included in the contract are a school board vehicle for official business, which includes all maintenance, fuel, and insurance; a $1,000 per month housing allowance; business expenses; health insurance; retirement; 15 days of paid vacation that can be carried up to 30 days; personal leave as accorded to the board; and reimbursement of reasonable professional development expenses.  

How does Wilkes’ salary compare to the rest of the superintendents in Alabama? According to Alabama Department of Education data, there are 206 superintendents in the state. Superintendent Wilkes is in 17thplace per the 2019 report. If only counting city systems, Wilkes comes in at 11thplace for salary.

The highest paid superintendent is in Jefferson County with a salary of $284,108 and an Average Daily Membership (ADM) of 35,823.05. The lowest paid superintendent in the state is Barbour County with an ADM of 722.40 and a salary of just $19,100. The ADM is an attendance calculation directly tied to student funding which provides a total number of students enrolled for a defined period. Phenix City has an ADM of 6,961.50, which put it in 32ndplace for enrollment for the state. In only city systems, Phenix City ranks 10thin ADM.