At an April 8 budget meeting of the seven-member Rutherford County School Board, the topic of a $60,000 pay increase for the Director of Schools was discussed.
The director’s salary discussion consumed nearly 20 minutes of the meeting that lasted just over an hour.
The current Director of Schools, Bill Spurlock, having been officially in the position since July 1, 2018, has less than a year on the job and has not yet had his first performance evaluation.
Spurlock came into the position after having been a high school principal in the Rutherford County Schools since 2008.
Spurlock replaced retiring Director of Schools Don Odom, who spent 50 years in the Rutherford County School system. Prior to spending his last six years as Director of Schools, Odom spent nine years before that as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, five years as Attendance Coordinator and an elementary school principal for 22 years, according to a report in the Daily News Journal.
During Odom’s tenure as Director, Rutherford County Schools district was twice named “exemplary” by the Tennessee Department of Education – the highest designation a school district can receive. Meanwhile, graduation rates and standardized test scores were improved while also opening or expanding several schools to accommodate the growth in student population, according to the Murfreesboro Voice.
Spurlock’s Contract of Employment between the Rutherford County Board of Education and him as the Director of Schools, was made and entered into on April 19, 2018, effective July 1, 2018, for a term of three years, or until June 30, 2021.
Spurlock signed the contract that specified in Section 5 his annual salary shall be $156,316, payable in equal monthly installments.
The same section states, “Beginning July 1, 2019, the Director’s salary shall be adjusted to match any salary increases or bonuses approved by the Board to general certified school employees.”
In addition to performing the duties and obligations of the Director as specified under Tennessee state statutes; the rules, regulations and minimum standards of the State Board of Education; the rules, regulations and policies of the Rutherford County Board of Education; applicable statutes and regulations of the United States and judicial and administrative interpretations thereof, as well as other reasonable other expectations of the position, there are four requirements for the Director’s professional growth spelled out in section 7 of the contract.
After about 40 minutes into the Board’s April 8 meeting, which Spurlock attended and virtually ran, there was a sideways glance between him and Board Chairman Jim Estes, at which time Spurlock got up and left the room without discussion or explanation.
Estes began flipping through papers, indicating that the rest of the Board had received the information that included average salaries in 2016-2017 throughout all of Tennessee’s school districts for the licensed educators, instructional personnel, classroom teacher, principal and superintendent and several pages in the back of the document included the latest available data on the number of students in school system.
Zone 6 Board member Jeff Jordan made the point that while the number of students is “absolutely important,” so is the number of buildings to supervise, which includes the number of principals, assistant principals and other people that need to be supervised.
The comparison was made to Maury County, which the reported indicated has 12,247 students and a Director’s salary of $180,000.
Said Jordan, “I rest my case. That’s $30,000 more than we pay and they’re a fourth the size. One word we’ve used in here and I’ve used is ‘competitive,’ and we are clearly, clearly not competitive.”
Tammy Sharp, Zone 1 Board member, said she would like to see how long the other directors had been in their school district and their education level.
Adding on to that, Lisa Moore from Zone 3 said that it was also important to know how long the directors had been in the role as director or superintendent, with the term being interchangeable depending on the district.
While Moore said she didn’t necessarily have a problem getting the salary to a competitive level, she did think it was premature to be looking at a $60,000 – or 37 percent – pay increase this year. “I think that’s entirely unacceptable, especially because, as we’ve, talked about we have teachers and classified employees that are barely making a living wage.
“How we explain that to our constituents and the people that are out there?” questioned Moore.
Moore recognized she always wants to put her “HR hat on,” alluding to her professional career, and from that perspective, those types of raises or salary increases aren’t even considered if it’s not somewhat performance based as well. “We don’t have any assessment to base that on, since we haven’t done one,” added Moore.
Referring to how teachers are paid for getting their masters or doctorate, Moore said she thought that should hold true for anybody in the school system.
“Maybe one of the things we might think about doing is perhaps some raises in increments,” suggested Moore, “like may be quarterly or certain performance goals that have to be reached to hit that level to get that salary to where we feel like it ought to be to be competitive.”
Zone 5’s Terry Hodges expressed that “I definitely think the salary needs to be raised, but I don’t necessarily agree with raising it all at one time.” After more discussion, Hodges later said in an annoyed tone, “You’re going to pay it sooner or later. I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about that.”
Admitting she wasn’t there at the time, Zone 4 Board member Tiffany Johnson, said she thought the questions about experience is more applicable during the hiring process. Johnson went on to say, “Our job on the front end is making sure we get the best qualified candidate who is going to accept that rate.”
Johnson’s statement seemed to contradict with Spurlock’s acceptance of the pay rate through his signing of the contract.
“So at this juncture, I think our objective is not so much to give Mr. Spurlock a raise as it is to make us more competitive when we go back into that pool and do $60,000 at one time. Not entirely, we have to address both those issues, but this issue that we’re looking at is more pointed towards being competitive and not rewarding our director or doing an evaluation. So, I don’t know what comes out our how that comes out because it will affect Mr. Spurlock’s salary or pay, but I think we need to keep those things in mind, that they are in a way mutually exclusive.”
Coy Young of Zone 2 thought that it’s an issue that should definitely be looked at, because in comparing counties where the superintendent pay is $200,000 or $220,000, the teacher pay is also more than that of Rutherford County anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 more. Young concluded, “I do think we need to do our due diligence here, and look at everything across the board. If we’re going to make one area right, we need to be making all the areas right, because we have some discrepancies here.”
Hodges commented that the only reason he made his points is that the chairman asked them to look at it, so that’s what he was doing. Without any related discussion or comments, Hodges added, “To my knowledge, Mr. Spurlock hasn’t said anything to me. I don’t know about the other board members.”
Calling on his memory, Chairman Estes asked Assistant Superintendent for Budget and Finance, Jeff Sandvig, if a school director had ever been hired at a salary different that the other one to which he responded in the affirmative about the replacement for someone who held a doctorate degree.
The next budget meeting of the Rutherford County School Board was going to be held on Thursday, April 18, but has since been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 16 at 5 p.m.
The video of the April 8 meeting can be watched here. The discussion about the Director’s salary begins at about the 43 minute mark.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.