A week after Carolina Journal broke news that a Lee County public school teacher instructed her students to contact state lawmakers in opposition to budget cuts, the school system’s board of education extended the contract for the superintendent who OK’d the assignment.
That’s led to criticism from conservative elected officials in Lee County who suggest that politics motivated the renewal.
“It’s smelly all the way around,” said Linda Shook, chair of the county commissioners.
Leaders of the board of education, however, say politics never entered the equation, and that the renewal was a “vote of confidence” in the superintendent.
A copy of the contract (PDF download) obtained by CJ shows that superintendent Jeffrey Moss earns a salary of $162,412, plus a $1,000-per month car allowance, a $1,200-per month housing allowances, and $18,000 in deferred compensation deposited into an interest-bearing account.
On June 14, the school board voted 5-2 to extend Moss’ contract an additional year — from 2014 to 2015. The renewal doesn’t include a compensation increase.
By comparison, the Wake County Public School System’s superintendent, Anthony Tata, makes $255,164 per year in salary and Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s superintendent, Peter Gorman, makes $267,150 per year in salary
WCPSS serves 143,289 students in 163 schools; CMS has 133,600 students in 176 schools. Lee County Schools has 9,654 students enrolled in 16 schools.
Moss drew criticism earlier in June when it was revealed that a Lee County public school teacher directed her third-grade class to write elected officials in opposition to budget cuts. One of the students is the daughter of state Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee.
In a hand-written note, she implored Stone to “put the budget higher dad” so that her school wouldn’t have to forgo field trips, be unprepared for end-of-grade tests, and lay off teacher assistants. The story made national headlines.
Moss said the assignment was appropriate because it only directed students to write their elected officials “in support of public education.” But Stone said his daughter was “used against” him.
“It was totally inappropriate for an 8-year old to be used as a lobbyist in Raleigh,” Stone said.
Support for Moss
The school board first considered a one-year extension of Moss’ contract in May, but delayed a vote until June when Moss had undergone an annual performance review, said Shawn Williams, chair of the board of education.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” Williams said.
Fellow school board member Bill Tatum agreed at the meeting in June.
“Dr. Moss stood tall in the face of vicious personal attacks for defending the rights and integrity of our teachers by those whose apparent goal is to dismantle public education. On behalf of the Lee County Board of Education, we thank you, Dr. Moss,” Tatum said.
“I tell folks time and time again that I’m the luckiest superintendent in the world to have a board as supportive as you are,” Moss said in response.
In a telephone interview with CJ, school board member Cameron Sharpe said the contract renewal was a rush job. “It’s totally ridiculous,” he said. “It’s obligating future school boards and future taxpayers for this clown.”
Shook sees politics as the motivating factor in the renewal.
“The thing that bothers a lot of us is that next year the board of education has four seats up for re-election, and I think there will be a change there,” she said. “That new board coming in, if they decide that they have a different vision than what Dr. Moss has for the county, they’re tied into him for another three years unless they buy him out, and buying him out is going to be very, very costly.”
‘Abuse of power’
In a press conference, Williams said that students’ letters, including the one written by Stone’s daughter, never were actually sent to government officials. Instead, their teacher “drafted a collective letter” and sent it through email. The exercise didn’t violate school policy, he said.
“Students’ names were not mentioned in the emails,” Williams said. “The actual student letters were never mailed or sent electronically to anyone.”
Asked if it was fair that Stone’s daughter was included in the assignment, Williams replied, “It was part of the lesson.”
Shortly before the press conference, Sharpe issued a press release calling the assignment an “irresponsible abuse of power within our schools.”
“It seems clear that Dr. Moss fails to recognize that his is not a political position and that he, by engaging in political posturing, has violated the trust of [the] school board, the constituents, and the children of this district,” Sharpe said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.