Florida’s governing body for high school sports and two critical state lawmakers agree on this: The Florida High School Athletic Association’s commissioner has a higher base salary than the governor.
Whether the six-figure income, Ford Expedition and other benefits assigned to the commissioner of the FHSAA are excessive or competitive depends on what comparisons you use and whom you ask.
Should the FHSAA’s salaries be matched against private nonprofits across the country, where salaries are often greater? Or to education officials in Florida, where cash-strapped districts have considered layoffs and furloughs and school closures?
“It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess,” said Linda Robertson, the FHSAA’s chief financial officer.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, have bills in committee that would cap the commissioner’s salary to what the governor makes.
As the FHSAA’s executive director, Roger Dearing leads an organization with 29 employees, a $5.7 million budget and the task of regulating 30 sports and about 800 public or private high schools.
For his services, Dearing’s contract calls for a base salary of $151,000 this year. That’s about $21,000 more than what the state allots for Gov. Rick Scott ($130,273), although that figure excludes other benefits like the governor’s mansion and travel costs. Scott has declined his salary since taking office.
Dearing’s annual contract also includes:
• 30 paid vacation days
• more than $30,000 in deferred compensation for retirement
• full health insurance coverage for him (and 54 percent for his wife)
• more than $11,000 for a car allowance
• complete reimbursement for a personal cell phone
His total package in 2010-11: $190,832, according to the FHSAA’s tax returns.
“If the governor can run the state on ($130,000),” Stargel said, “then they can run the FHSAA on the same.”
But most high school sports associations don’t operate that way.
In 2011-12, commissioners averaged a base salary of $137,400, according to a National Federation of State High School Associations survey.
Dearing’s salary of $145,000 for that year ranked 17th — tied with Nebraska, a state with half as many schools and a budget that’s 14 percent smaller.
Florida paid significantly less to its commissioner than its two biggest peers, Texas and California. Texas’ executive director will make almost $244,000 this year and receives $1,080 for a cell phone, while California is so big that it’s split into 10 sections — and most of those have their own six-figure director.
Dearing’s salary is on par with the heads of smaller state charities, like the associations for school districts and superintendents, but his compensation is disproportionately higher than the leader of the state’s teachers union.
Nationally, all nonprofit CEOs with budgets like the FHSAA’s — between $5 million and $10 million — earn a median base salary of $176,000, according to the not-for-profit compensation survey by Total Compensation Solutions.
“Arguably, my salary is very fair,” Dearing said in a phone interview from his Gainesville office.
A Tampa Bay Times analysis shows that his other benefits are also comparable to his peers.
Of the 41 state associations’ tax returns reviewed by the Times, Dearing’s $191,000 in salary and benefits ranked 11th overall and
16th relative to the organization’s budget. He received about $37,000 above the median figure but was well below the $1 million package New York’s commissioner received.
Stipends for cars and cell phones like Dearing’s are standard benefits for nonprofit CEOs, according to the New York-based Total Compensation Solutions.
“Try to find any other CEO that doesn’t have a cell phone allowance or a car provided,” Dearing said.
Some employee benefits save the FHSAA money, Dearing said. The $39,000 it spends on car stipends is still cheaper than the almost $68,000 it previously budgeted for a fleet of rental cars to crisscross the state.
Dearing said he uses his car stipend to fund all of his travel costs and that he doesn’t accept per diem expenses. His 2011 Ford Expedition has racked up 72,000 miles in two years and traveled to every part of Florida but the Keys.
“If you want to look at expenses, the association makes out pretty good,” Dearing said.
But his benefits have caught the attention of Stargel, who said she’s heard numerous complaints from constituents about the “ton of perks” Dearing receives. It’s not the first time the FHSAA’s benefits have come under fire.
In 1997, the state attorney’s office investigated commissioner Ron Davis’ $117,000 retirement settlement. Davis also received a $2,300 trip to Hawaii for a national conference that took place three years after he retired, according to Times’ archives. He retired after being cleared of wrongdoing.
Another former director, Bob Hughes, used $30,000 from the FHSAA to buy a personal truck upon his retirement — a move at least one former board member and an outside legal expert questioned in Times interviews.
In the same 2008 board meeting when Dearing was named the new commissioner, he proposed giving outgoing director John Stewart an extra 30 days of paid time off. The motion carried.
All three received annual state pensions between $57,000-$116,000 as retired school administrators while they served as FHSAA commissioners, according to the Florida Department of Management Services. Figures were not available for Dearing, a retired superintendent.
Although the FHSAA is partially funded through public dollars, its benefits are greater than those of other state employees, who haven’t received raises in six years.
About 4 percent of the FHSAA’s budget comes from member schools’ dues, which are funded by public money. The association also receives more than half of its revenue through a portion of gate receipts at football jamborees or playoff games and fines, which do not come directly from taxes. Metz’s bill would cut dues and gate receipts in half.
Since 2007, the FHSAA has added four staff members and averaged a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase to serve a growing student-athlete population and manage 20 percent more championships. Dearing has averaged a 4.6 percent raise each year — more than the 3-4 percent non-profit CEOs average nationally but not extreme, according to Total Compensation Solutions.
Dearing’s salary is on par with superintendents and top Department of Education officials, though the organization he leads is much smaller. Pasco schools’ budget is almost 200 times larger than the FHSAA’s, but the district allots a salary that’s 9 percent smaller for its superintendent.
“Coming from the background of public schools, all I heard was run your public school like a business,” Robertson said. “Now I’m in business and all I hear is run your business like a public school.”
Robertson said the FHSAA strives to use its resources effectively. The association has saved schools money by cutting dues in half the past two years. Only Texas and California have more schools than Florida, but at least 20 states had larger budgets in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
After years working in public schools, Robertson has grown used to scrutiny but wonders why the state legislature is so concerned with the finances of a private organization that only gets a small part of its revenue from the public.
“Why are we trying to regulate a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization,” Robertson said, “when we do have issues of public schools not having enough money?”
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing’s total compensation — including base salary, retirement savings and stipends — ranked 11th among 41 states with available information in 2010-11.
Budget: $3.8 million
Number of schools: 781*
Executive compensation: $1 million
Budget: $10.7 million
Number of schools: 760 plus
Executive compensation: $282,000
Budget: $8.8 million
Number of schools: 1500*
Executive compensation: $220,000
Budget: $3.5 million
Number of schools: 355
Executive compensation: $196,000
Budget: $4.2 million
Number of schools: 800
Executive compensation: $191,000
Budget: $8.1 million
Number of schools: 580
Executive compensation: $177,000
Budget: $17.6 million
Number of schools: 800 plus
Executive compensation: $153,000
Budget: $3.3 million
Number of schools: 374
Executive compensation: $161,000
Budget: $4 million
Number of schools: 400 plus
Executive compensation: $120,000
*Includes junior/middle schools
Source: 2010-11 tax returns
New York: $166,000
North Carolina: $135,000
Note: Figures were rounded.
Source: National Federation of State High School Associations
Florida education officials
2012-13 base salary
Commissioner of education: $275,000
Pinellas County superintendent: $240,000
Chancellor of Florida colleges: $225,000
Manatee County superintendent: $183,500
Chancellor of public schools: $181,500
FHSAA commissioner: $151,000
Pasco County superintendent: $138,000*
Chancellor of career and adult education: $120,000
Deputy chancellor for Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Services: $110,000
* Superintendent Kurt Browning does not collect a salary
Source: FHSAA, MyFlorida.com, Bradenton Herald, Times archives
Other Florida education-related non-profits
Florida Education Association
Total compensation for top employee: $345,000
Total budget: $31.1 million
Florida School Boards Association
Total compensation for top employee: $202,000
Total budget: $1.7 million
Total compensation for top employee: $191,000
Total budget: $4.2 million
Florida Association of District School Superintendents
Total compensation for top employee: $177,000
Total budget: $1.7 million
Source: 2010-11 tax returns
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.