With bonus, Copeland could earn $300,000

City schools CEO gets $40,000 pay increase

August 18, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland will receive a compensation package of at least $272,700 this school year, an increase of more than $40,000, according to the terms of her new contract. And she is eligible for a bonus that would raise the package above $300,000.

The new three-year contract appears to bring Copeland's compensation in line with that of other superintendents in Maryland's largest school systems, including those in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, and with other urban superintendents around the country.

Under the terms of Copeland's new contract, approved Monday night and obtained yesterday by The Sun, Copeland's "initial salary" will be $192,000. But every year, starting with July of this year, she will receive a raise of "no less than" $10,000, or a percentage equivalent to what other top administrators in the school system are receiving, whichever is greater.

School board Chairman Brian Morris said Copeland will receive a $10,000 raise for the 2005-2006 school year, bringing her salary to $202,000.

Then, the contract requires the school board to contribute 35 percent of Copeland's salary to "supplemental income programs," such as retirement funds. That works out to $70,700 this year.

In addition, the contract allows for an annual bonus of up to $28,000 for demonstrated increases in students' academic performance (worth $10,000), improvements in management efficiencies (another $10,000), and implementation of innovative reform programs ($8,000).

While Copeland may receive a retroactive bonus for the 2004-2005 school year, which ended June 30, Morris said the school board has not determined how much it will be.

Under Copeland's old contract, signed in 2003, her base salary was $192,000 and the school board contributed 20 percent of her salary to supplemental income programs. That works out to $38,400 a year. The previous contract did not include provisions for a bonus and annual salary increase, meaning her compensation package was $230,400, before benefits and expenses.

Last school year, superintendents in Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Howard, Charles and Baltimore counties made bigger base salaries than Copeland, according to data provided to the Maryland State Department of Education. With 87,000 students, Baltimore is the fourth-largest school system in the state, behind Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

In Anne Arundel County, Superintendent Eric J. Smith has a compensation package worth about $300,000. In Baltimore County, Superintendent Joe A. Hairston makes a base salary of $239,200, and the school board contributes the maximum allowable non-taxable amount to a retirement account.

The difference in Baltimore is the school system's history of financial problems and its current crisis over special education. The board's vote on Copeland's contract Monday came three days after U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis issued an order authorizing the state to take control of several school system departments and singling out Copeland for criticism. Garbis presides over a 21-year-old lawsuit involving the city's special-education program, and the school system on Friday signed a consent agreement acknowledging it is in contempt for failures in serving children with disabilities.

Morris said Copeland's ability to produce academic gains in the midst of a financial crisis demonstrated why she deserved to be reappointed.

"We've had increases in academic scores, which is the real reason she's here," he said. "She led us through the fiscal crisis. She's been a tremendous asset to the system in terms of credibility."

The fiscal crisis required her to announce layoffs of more than 800 employees on the day after she was hired in 2003.

The school system declined to provide The Sun with a copy of Copeland's new contract Tuesday. Yesterday, Copeland said the delay was due to problems with the formatting of the contract.

The school board approved Copeland's contract without advance public notice at a meeting Monday night - a move that, while legal, angered some who said the community should have been informed. Because the contract had been negotiated months earlier, and copies were not distributed at the meeting, some board members did not know the dollar amount when questioned Tuesday.

That confusion continued yesterday, when Mayor Martin O'Malley - given wrong information by city school system officials - said at a news briefing that he was unsure whether Copeland would be eligible for a bonus under her new contract. He said lots of people deserve bonuses, but that doesn't mean the city can afford them.

When asked whether board members should have known what Copeland would be paid under her new contract, O'Malley replied: "I am not yet satisfied with the level of openness, transparency and accountability of the school system. It continues to be a work in progress."

O'Malley, who earns $125,000 annually, said he understood the board's decision to renew Copeland's contract.

"Whenever you have contracts come up for renewal or reappointment, you always wonder, maybe we could do better by going outside and finding someone new," he said. "But I think you have to balance that against the progress you are making with the person that you have. Has it been perfect? No. Has it been painful? Absolutely, it's been painful. But we continue to make progress."

Sun staff writers Doug Donovan and Liz F. Kay and staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

City schools chief's compensation

Base salary: $192,000

Annual raise: at least $10,000, including $10,000 this school year

Supplemental income: 35 percent of salary, or $70,700 this school year

Performance bonus: up to $28,000 each year of the contract plus last school year

Source: Baltimore City Public School System

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