Superintendent James Merrill of Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) announced his retirement this past week at the Wake County School Board meeting.
Merrill’s sudden departure appeared to take some board members off guard. There has been no indication he would be departing prior to his extended contract end date in 2019.
Merrill’s resignation letter was brief and reads, in part, “I believe our schools are in a good place, notwithstanding some challenges like growth, funding, and legislative mandates. We have adaptive and creative leadership at the employee and board levels, and I am confident the Wake County Schools, with the continued support of our community, can meet the challenges.”
Merrill will end his employment with WCPSS in the middle of the current school year on February 1, 2018.
WCPSS is the largest district in the state and the 15th largest school district nationwide.
Highest Compensated Superintendent
James Merrill is the highest compensated in the state in terms of local and state salary.
When American Lens reported on the top earning superintendents in the state in late 2016, Merrill was pulling down $284,842.08 in local and state funds. The breakdown of that compensation was $145,342.08 in local funds and $139,500.00 in state funds.
Merrill’s pay in late 2016 roughly translated to the compensation equal to that of 5.7 classroom teachers at the new state average rate of $50,000.
In our 2016 report, we noted that Supt. Merrill had the lowest Average Daily Membership (ADM) rate of the top ten compensated superintendents in the state. Wake county had 156,768 students at the time and Merrill’s rate per ADM was $1.82.
Currently, Merrill is earning just over $300,000 after Merrill announced his retirement, the Wake Board approved a $6,387 pay raise.
In addition to awarding retiring @WCPSS Supt. Jim Merrill a $6,387 raise that will lift his salary to over $300K & a $6,239 performance bonus, last night the school board gave $1,500 one-time bonuses to 19 members of his leadership team totaling $28,500 #nced pic.twitter.com/AS7ckqnNXc
— Keung Hui (@nckhui) November 22, 2017
The board also gave the superintendent a $6,239 bonus for achieving certain performance goals. What those performance goals consist of still remains a mystery as WCPSS has refused to turn over that list to media outlets.
I argued with WCPSS officials that the taxpayers of Wake County fund Merrill’s salary. The document requested is directly related to taxpayer-funded payments to Merrill. WCPSS, through a lawyer, rejected my argument and insisted that the performance goal list was part of Merrrill’s personnel file and was therefore protected.
Contract Details for Supt. Merrill
Merrill’s contract states he has to give 90 days notice and his resignation appears to be within those parameters.
It’s worth noting that prior to the last election, the Wake School Board put a clause into his contract which has the effect of barring the next elected board from terminating him by attaching a two-year severance ‘golden parachute’ of $560,000.
Here are some of the perks and conditions from Merrill’s contract:
- Termination clause states Board pays severance of two years of annual compensation ($569,684.16).
- Upon unilateral termination the board will pay severance on the upcoming 12 months of the contract or the remainder of the contract, whichever is less.
- Additional 5% of annual compensation to be added depending on annual evaluation results
- Compensated at a rate of 1/250 of total compensation for 10 days of work done prior to start date.
- Reimbursed for up to $2000 for 30 days of temporary housing while relocating.
- Board provides smartphone, laptop, home fax machine, iPad and other electronic devices
- Reimbursement for internet access.
- If Superintendent does not give the required 90 days notice, a $30,000 fine will be levied .
- Reimbursement for expenses.
- $2,000 per year in membership fees/dues.
- Annual sick leave, vacation per State Board policy.
- Annual pay out for 10 days of vacation per year at 1/250 of Superintendent’s aggregate annual salary .
- Additional 96 hours per year in paid leave to be used prior to annual vacation leave allotment
- Health insurance per State Health Plan.
- Board does not require an annual medical exam.
- Board would hire security for Superintendent and family should any threats arise.
- Board will reimburse Superintendent for contributions made to the state retirement system.
- Reimbursement for term life insurance.