06/24/11 — School officials: Remarks untrue

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School officials: Remarks untrue

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 24, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County School officials refuted a claim made this week by County Commissioner Jack Best that the county schools superintendent, Dr. Steven Taylor, had requested the board extend his contract and pay him $6,500 out of teacher supplement money.

The money comes from local allocations, they said, but not from the fund Best cited.

School Board Chairman Thelma Smith said Thursday that it was a matter of routine for the school board's lawyer to send its members an annual evaluation form and a letter requesting a one-year extension of Taylor's contract. He has been superintendent for 11 years.

The "evaluative supplement" could be anywhere from nothing to $6,500, she said.

Historically, the board has approved the one-year extension to keep Taylor's contract in a four-year status. That, and the decision to give him a bonus, were made early on, she said. Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, said the money is budgeted in the central office line item of the schools' budget.

"In the year 2000, the board voted that we would give Dr. Taylor this supplement whenever it's time to renew his contract," Mrs. Smith said. "It's nothing new that's coming out."

The supplement might come from local money, said Ken Derksen, public information officer for the district, but, "It's not coming from the same allocation for the teacher supplement."

Mrs. Smith explained that the superintendent's bonus, like the teacher supplement, is an effort to keep the Wayne school district competitive with other counties.

Best also had criticized Taylor's salary, which is approximately $170,000, saying it is too high.

Mrs. Smith said that in the current market, that figure is not considered high compared to other counties the size of Wayne.

"When we made comparisons, it is below what counties like Pitt and Johnston (pay)," she said. "I think it may be commensurate with Kinston, Lenoir County, and places like that. He's right in the ballpark.

"We have got some principals in North Carolina that are making a half-million dollars or more. We are No. 20 in the state in size so we're not among the top, we're not among the bottom, but his salary of course is comparable or commensurate with other systems our size."

Best made his comments at a commissioners' meeting Tuesday at which the public was invited to speak on the proposed county budget.

"Mr. Best's comments and allegations were both disappointing and appalling," Taylor said today. "His statements were misleading, not based on fact and frankly, untrue. Instead of responding to the citizens who had concerns about the budget and revaluation, Mr. Best chose to use a diversion tactic to take the heat off of him and to use the schools as his target.

"Since being named on the county commissioners he has continuously criticized the schools and the school board with insulting and baseless comments. Due diligence on the facts is suggested."

Most disturbing, Taylor said, was Best's characterization of the schools as "the enemy," a statement he said he found both "unbelievable and offensive" to the county's teachers as well its administrators, staff and students.

"The schools educate, mold, shape and prepare students for college, work or the military," Taylor said. "Shame on Mr. Best for making such an inappropriate and outrageous statement."

The sniping between the boards is counterproductive for everyone, he said.

"Businesses and industry see this in looking to locate to Wayne County, which is detrimental to our future growth," he said. "We need to work in a collaborative, cooperative way and stop the juvenile, unprofessional comments.

Mrs. Smith also took issue with Best's remarks about the way meetings are covered, noting that all meetings are advertised and open to the public.

And whether it be through newspapers or the local cable access TV channel and the Honeywell notification system, the district makes every attempt to publicize information.

It's frustrating any time such comments are made by another governing body in the county, Mrs. Smith said, especially when efforts are being made to have an open-door policy.

"I don't quite understand why it is that the school board is their little whipping post," she said. "When they don't have anybody else to beat up on, it's the school board. We're being beat up for things that we don't deserve.

"I believe if they took an active role -- come to our meetings, be at the schools working with students, we appreciate that -- we need that kind of support from them, not combative. We're all out there trying to work for the students of Wayne County."

She said she has attended many meetings at the state level where county commissions are recognized for their efforts toward improving school systems, and hopes one day that will be the case for Wayne County.

At one point in time, she said she believed things were improving, but that does not appear to be the case now.

"We have invited them, formed committees together, we have had workshops together and we have opened up our books, our programs, we have set around the table, asked them to ask questions, we have had our staff show them programs, let them ask any questions about anything we do," she said. "We thought we were really on the road to mending fences, a better relationship. Then all of a sudden here it comes again out of the clear blue sky.

"I thought all of us were adult enough so that if it's anything we don't understand, we ask somebody before we start just spewing it out so that people can let it fall where it may," she said. "Of course, people do think the worst kind of things that are just not true.

"This is the part that bothers me. They won't ask the questions to the people that can answer them. They'd just rather make snide comments and just throw something against the wall. ... We're trying to work for these children, we don't need our leaders at each other's throats."

Still, she said, she hopes the two boards can find common ground.

"Hopefully, we can get back on track, get back to where we were when I thought the communication was improving," she said. "But it looks like it's starting up again.

"I'm throwing out an olive branch to them one more time. I have got another half year as chairperson and I certainly will be working to improve these relations if we can. But we have got to have people coming out and telling the truth."