Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith awaits vote on $25,000 raise

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith awaits vote on $25,000 raise

June 18th, 2013 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith

POLL: Should Rick Smith get a $25,000 raise?


The proposed contract agreement also affords the superintendent:

• A $7,200 automobile allowance

• 24 days of paid vacation annually

• Entitlement to any local pay increases given to school employees

• District-funded cellphone plan

• The same fringe benefits given to other district employees, including paid holidays, insurance plans and retirement benefits


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The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote this week on whether to give Superintendent Rick Smith a raise of about $25,000.

Smith is in the second year of a four-year contract that has him making about $167,000 a year. A proposed new four-year contract would bump his salary to $190,000 -- an increase of about 14 percent.

The proposed contract is listed as the first order of business at the board's regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Last month, on the heels of mostly positive evaluations, board members unanimously voted to renegotiate another four-year contract with the superintendent.

Smith's salary already is well above the 2011 state average superintendent pay of $103,000, though he runs one of the biggest school systems in the state. Even if his proposed pay of $190,000 is approved, he'll make less than leaders of the state's biggest school districts. Superintendent salaries in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville range from about $220,000 to $283,000, records show. Before his ouster in 2011, Hamilton County Superintendent Jim Scales was making about $220,000.

Still, some board members are questioning the timing of Smith's proposed raise.

He still has two years left on his current contract. And, in tight budget times, some board members foresee a tough sell with the public.

"I don't see the big hurry," board member Rhonda Thurman said. "It's not like he's applying for a job somewhere else."

Thurman said she was originally and remains a strong supporter of Smith. But with county employees forgoing a raise in next year's budget and the unknown costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, she wondered whether such a raise is a fiscally conservative move.

Rhonda Thurman

Rhonda Thurman

"I think he's doing a good job," she said. "But the question is the timing on this."

Board member Jeffrey Wilson said he has no objection to giving the superintendent a raise. But with constant constraints of limited funding and budget cuts, he said the move could send a mixed message. Plus, it's not clear what kind of raise district employees as a whole may get in the coming year. Administrators are negotiating salaries for teachers for the 2013-14 school year.

"We don't know what we are going to be able to do for employees this year," Wilson said. "And as a district we are always looking for ways to make cuts in terms of budgets. You wonder about what type of message that will send out to the community."

He said a raise for Smith could have larger effects on employee morale. And it could be thrown in the school board's face if it were to petition the County Commission for more money.

"The main question for the board is how it looks," Wilson said.

But board member Mike Evatt, who negotiated Smith's original salary two years ago along with this week's updated contract, said Smith has earned a raise. His original salary was relatively lower, Evatt said, because Smith hadn't yet proven himself as a superintendent.

Evatt said the board generally renegotiates superintendent contracts on election off years, as state law bans negotiating contracts within a certain period of election cycles. And Smith's leadership of the district and his relationships with business leaders have given him a leg to stand on, Evatt said.

"Given what Rick's done over the last couple years and where our system is today, and based off those other [superintendent] salaries across the state, I feel like this is a very fair salary," Evatt said. "If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said, 'No, I think he needs to prove himself and show what he can do.'"

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249.