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Charlotte Observer: Experienced, Top-Paid Teachers Leaving CMS

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has shed dozens of highly-paid teachers in the past year while adding to the entry-level ranks, an Observer analysis of the 2012 CMS payroll shows. More Information - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools salary database CMS Top 10 These are the 10 highest-paid employees of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as of March, along with any changes since last year. Superintendent Heath Morrison starts July 1 and is not yet on the CMS payroll. 1. Hugh Hattabaugh, interim superintendent: $190,000 a year. His pay went up $20,100 from his salary as chief operating officer. He plans to leave CMS when his interim term ends in June. 2. Ann Clark, chief academic officer: $169,638. No change. 3. Sheila Shirley, chief financial officer: $169,363. No change. 4. George Battle III, general counsel: $168,000. Got a $16,000 raise. 5-6. Scott Muri, chief information officer: $160,000. Got a $25,141 raise when he took over duties of the chief accountability officer. Recently left CMS. 5-6. Daniel Habrat, chief human resource officer: $160,000. No change. 7. Maureen Furr, principal, South Mecklenburg High: $155,676. No change. 8. Denise Watts, Project LIFT zone superintendent: $150,000. Making $15,141 more than she was last year as an area superintendent. She briefly left CMS to work for the private Project LIFT; now works for CMS but is paid with private donations. 9. Guy Chamberlain, associate superintendent for auxiliary services: $148,813. No change. 10. Edward Ellis, assistant principal, Davis Military/Leadership Academy: $142,874. Moved from Vance High, no change in salary. Was once a high school principal and kept that pay level when he became an assistant. Budget meeting Mecklenburg County commissioners will hold a special meeting to discuss the CMS budget at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Room 267 of the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. The annual payroll report captures a year of turmoil and transition. Superintendent Peter Gorman and many high-ranking administrators have departed. Veteran principals and teachers are retiring and resigning in droves, likely driven by pay freezes, rising job demands and an economy that's starting to offer more lucrative alternatives. "They're doing something for themselves for once," said Judy Kidd, a longtime teacher who heads the Classroom Teachers Association. She said district leaders have embraced national trends that blame teachers for student failure: "There are people who are getting tired of the battle." When Heath Morrison steps in as superintendent this summer, earning $288,000 a year, he'll take over a workforce that has grown slightly since 2011 but has fewer people earning $100,000 or more. That's likely to change as he builds an executive staff. Since 2008, the Observer has published payroll data on local governments every spring, as those bodies discuss their upcoming budgets, to help people understand how their money is spent. CMS, which had 18,351 people on its payroll as of March 2012, is one of Mecklenburg County's and North Carolina's largest employers. That's 149 more than the 2011 CMS payroll listed. The current combined salaries total about $677 million, up more than $600,000 over the previous years but well below the peak of $745 million in 2009. Since 2009, the district has added about 4,000 students. Officials say the economic uptick, which helped avert layoffs and let CMS hire more teachers, has a downside. During the worst of the recession, people who had jobs held onto them. Now, CMS officials and teachers agree, educators who haven't had a raise in the past three years are finding opportunities for higher-paying jobs. "Whether you like it or not, compensation does come into play," says interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who is asking Mecklenburg County commissioners to bump up the CMS budget by $27.5 million to provide a 3 percent across-the-board raise. Top flight Gorman's resignation to take a private-sector job in June was the biggest of several high-level departures in the past year. Administrators in charge of testing, technology and school safety have gone to other school districts. Hattabaugh never filled his old post as chief operating officer, and plans to leave CMS when his interim job ends in June. New superintendents tend to pick their own top lieutenants. When Gorman took the CMS job, he said one of his goals was hiring the best leadership, even if that bumped up salaries. "Sometimes you have to pay a little more to get the right folks," he said at the time. Morrison said recently that he plans to fill the leadership jobs in technology and accountability quickly. Beyond that, he'll have to decide how to structure what's called his "executive cabinet" in Reno. He could create, abolish and/or redefine high-level posts. The number of people earning $100,000 or more rose steadily from 50 in 2006, just before Gorman's arrival, to 104 in 2010. Last year, as CMS shed hundreds of jobs because of budget cuts, the number dipped to 85. This year 75 people cleared that level. As part of a push to save money and boost academic performance, Gorman and the board eliminated 16 principal jobs through school closings and mergers. The resulting shuffle, coupled with a surge of retirements and resignations, brought change to many of the district's schools. A comparison between the 2011 and 2012 payrolls shows a dozen principals who were earning more than $100,000 last spring are gone. Among them are such high-profile veterans as South Charlotte Middle's Christine Waggoner, Rocky River High's Mark Nixon, West Mecklenburg High's Denise Atkinson, Bruns Elementary's Steve Hall and Sterling Elementary's Nancy Guzman. Guzman, who had earned national honors and hosted a visit from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, shocked some CMS leaders earlier this year when she spoke publicly about her frustration: "The feeling in CMS as a principal is you are not valued," she told the Observer in February. Retirement pays Hattabaugh acknowledges that jobs have become stressful for principals and teachers, as budget cuts have reduced crucial staffing, evaluation standards keep changing and demands increase. But he says that contrary to persistent rumors, there has never been a push to get rid of experienced, highly paid educators. Instead, he says, the pay freeze has created an incentive to retire, as the Baby Boomers are reaching an age to do so. Many educators in their 50s can retire with full benefits. Because their pension is based on their last four years of pay, Hattabaugh said, people have more incentive to keep working if their pay keeps rising. The last across-the-board increase for N.C. educators came in 2008-09, and the state's two-year budget brings no raises for 2012-13. Now, Hattabaugh said, many are retiring from CMS, collecting a North Carolina pension and going to work elsewhere, including in South Carolina schools. "It's unfortunate to lose people we have invested in and who have invested in us," Hattabaugh said. Teacher pay creeping down The CMS 10-month pay scale for teachers ranges from about $34,400 to $78,000, based on experience and credentials. Some temporary or part-time teachers make less, while some who have 12-month contracts make more. The highest-paid teachers are those who lead ROTC programs, because they get a federal supplement as active-duty members of the military. This year's payroll lists six making more than $90,000 a year. For most teachers, there's been no increase since the state froze raises in 2008-09. As school board member Richard McElrath, a retired teacher, likes to point out, that equates to a pay cut, because teachers are paying more for their benefits and seeing the cost of living rise. Because of the freeze, a teacher with four years' experience now makes the same as one right out of college. That applies to those hired from outside CMS as well as those who started their careers here. From last spring to the current payroll, the ranks of CMS teachers making $40,000 a year or more have dwindled by 340. But the district has added 663 teachers making less than $40,000 - generally, those with no more than eight years' experience. That brings this year's total roster of teachers to 8,785, an increase of 323 over last spring. Bonuses - for now Top administrators stopped getting bonuses in 2009, as CMS faced budget cuts. But 795 teachers, principals and other educators in struggling high-poverty schools collected bonuses in the past year, with amounts ranging from about $600 to $17,300. Those bonuses came from three main sources: Strategic staffing, a county-funded program to recruit top principals and teachers, offers recruitment and retention bonuses to small teams who volunteer for three-year stints. A federal performance-pay pilot program pays end-of-year bonuses at select schools based on student achievement. And the state's Race to the Top grant provides faculty bonuses based on student test-score gains at some of the lowest-performing schools. The biggest bonus, $17,300, went to a math facilitator at Billingsville Elementary, a school that's participating in all three programs. Altogether, the payroll lists almost $2.8 million in bonuses, with 44 people getting $10,000 or more. The rules and opportunities for bonuses change every year. The federal pilot program expires at the end of this school year. The state stopped paying bonuses for test-score growth three years ago, when it froze pay. Meanwhile, Project LIFT, a public-private partnership to improve nine west Charlotte schools, is launching new recruitment and performance bonuses at those schools, using private donations. Morrison is likely to unveil his own plans for recruiting teachers and rewarding top performance. Morrison's contract includes the potential for a performance bonus up to 10 percent of his base pay. Boosting morale In his early Charlotte appearances, Morrison has said boosting employee morale will be one of his first goals. For all the attention Morrison's hiring has garnered, teacher leaders voice skepticism that he can turn the tide of discontent. He'll start work shortly after county commissioners vote on the 2012-13 CMS budget. Many say it's a long shot that commissioners will pony up for raises that are traditionally a state responsibility, especially if it requires a tax hike or service cuts to do so. Even as CMS has backed off from controversial testing and performance pay plans, the state is moving forward on similar efforts. "This isn't a good atmosphere to work in," says Randolph Frierson, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators. "I don't know how much they can actually do without an appropriation from the state." MeckEd, a nonprofit education and advocacy group, will hold a new "Teachers of Excellence" event on May 16, honoring 40 top teachers. Bill Anderson, a former CMS principal who leads the group, said it's one way to offset all the things that discourage educators. "Teachers have been pounded pretty bad lately," he said. "We're trying to lift the profession up."