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Fiscally tone deaf

June 8, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The Lee County School Board boosted the district's top administrator's pay by 13 percent this week, adding a number of other goodies in his new three-year contract as well.

School's Superintendent Gregory Adkins' new contract increases his annual compensation from $185,000 to $209,000; adds an automatic raise if teachers get one; provides that the district will contribute 10 percent of his monthly base salary to a retirement investment account of his choice; allows Dr. Adkins to sell back up to six unused vacation days to the school board each year as can other staffers; and provides for the collection of up to 20 weeks of pay and other benefits if he is fired without cause and does not dispute the decision.

The contract, which goes into effect July 1 to coincide with the start of the district's new budget year, was approved 6-1 with Board Member Melisa Giovannelli dissenting.

The board majority approved the contract ahead of the current contract's October expiration date for a number of reasons.

One, according to numbers presented, Dr. Adkins, who was hired in 2015 at the same rate of pay as his predecessor, is underpaid. His current compensation places him below the 25th percentile for like positions, board officials said.

Two, supporters say Dr. Adkins has brought a number of things to the table in his two and a half years at the helm, including improved graduation rates and stability and so deserves recognition for his efforts.

We'll not debate the board majority's reasoning for the compensation increases here. The numbers are what the numbers are and yes, using those figures Dr. Adkins' compensation comes in lower than that paid to superintendents employed in comparable large districts. His current compensation - and his increased compensation - in fact, comes in lower than the $220,000 paid to his counterpart in Collier County, a district about half the size.

We will, however, ask whether the district, specifically the board, is cognizant of the mixed message being sent.

School officials are asking - are pleading - for additional funding for new schools and other capital improvements they say are critically needed.

That need far outstrips current revenue sources with the district facing a $478 million shortfall in capital revenue over the next five years as it works to accommodate the expected influx of 1,500-2,000 additional students each year.

The proposed half-cent sales tax to appear on the November ballot would bring in $58 million per year and taxpayers should dig a little deeper and approve this surcharge for schools, officials say.

Operational funding, which includes salaries, and capital funding, for things like new schools, come from two different pockets.

We get that.

Most voters get that, too.

But those pockets line the same pair of pants and that is what officials often don't get when they approve expenditures perceived as non-essential while asking for additional money for things many would agree are.

In the grand scheme of things, a $24,000 bump in a billion dollar budget may not "be much," but a 13 percent raise - plus better benefits - is a generous boost even in good financial times.

Which, school officials say, have yet to return to the district as the state continues to control the purse strings.

All other arguments aside, the timing on this new contract was abysmal.

A tax increase is always a hard sell.

The Lee County School Board's fiscally tone deaf decision unnecessarily just made this one a little harder.

- Breeze editorial



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