The DeKalb County Board of Education approved a $15,000 raise for Superintendent Crawford Lewis this month, angering educators who said they’ve been denied raises due to the poor economy.
The board voted 8-1 on Jan. 4 to increase Lewis’ salary from $240,000 to $255,000. The board also extended his contract – which was scheduled to expire in October 2011 – through 2012.
Lewis declined to comment on the increase through district spokesman Dale Davis, who directed questions to the board. Lewis, however, agreed to a 2 percent pay reduction and declined a $10,000 cost-of-living increase last year.
Gene Walker was the sole board member to vote against the increase. He has said numerous times he doesn’t believe district workers should receive raises when other employees, teachers included, have been denied them.
Walker could not be reached for comment Jan. 5.
But several upset district employees and educators appeared before the board to protest the salary increase. Teachers have been denied step salary and cost-of-living increases this year and in past years, said David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, a local affiliate of the Georgia Association of Educators.
District bus drivers also clogged the board’s chambers in Decatur, protesting large cuts to hours and pay, and the board voted in July to temporarily halt district payments to a retirement account for teachers and administrators. Lewis also said cuts could go deeper, and the district has scheduled a press conference on Jan. 8 to discuss the 2010-11 district budget.
“There’s been a lot of discontent over the last two months about this issue, and now it’s going to be worse. People are angry,” Schutten said. “Dr. Lewis and a vast majority of the board members are tone deaf. … The timing is bad. It’s just very bad.”
But board member H. Paul Womack defended the raise and said Lewis has received more lucrative offers from school districts and has improved DeKalb County schools significantly since he was named superintendent in 2004. Womack also said there is only a $500 difference between his new salary and what was initially approved in his 2007 contract.
“This contract has been frozen for three years. There’s no raises,” he said.
The district would have spent far more to replace Lewis had he been lured to another school district, Womack said.
“You’re paid commensurate to your responsibility, and this is a billion-dollar corporation,” he said. “It would cost us $350,000 to get the best superintendent for this district to replace him.”
Rumors about a pay increase became public last month after Schutten criticized the board at a meeting for considering a salary hike. Since then, Lewis has said his pay has fallen considerably behind comparable area superintendents.