LAND O'LAKES — Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning plans to begin drawing his $137,835 salary on the first anniversary of his taking office.
Browning, who won the job in a landslide victory last fall, has been receiving biweekly checks of 4 cents since being sworn in Nov. 20. He chose to accept $1 for one year if elected, explaining when he announced his candidacy that he did not want accusations that he was a "double dipper" to distract from his campaign.
A retired Florida secretary of state and county election supervisor, Browning had received a $426,897.40 DROP payout — his accrued monthly pension payments over that time, plus interest — soon after his April 30, 2010, retirement. He also began getting his monthly pension payment of $7,273.29 at that time.
Former superintendent Heather Fiorentino, whom Browning defeated, tried to make a case against her opponent on that front regardless. She sent out mailers during the race suggesting that if Browning were to take a salary to lead the district while also accepting his retirement pay, he would essentially be taking two salaries from the state taxpayers.
A year into his superintendency, Browning has decided that it's time to get paid for the work. He is not eligible for another state retirement fund.
"It is costing me to be superintendent," he said. "I don't have a problem with that. But when I think about the things that my wife and I both do . . . we want to be able to put that back into the schools."
Browning said he explored having the pay go directly to the district as a contribution, but discovered his tax liability would run close to $35,000. By taking it as a paycheck, he said, the tax rate lowers dramatically, and he can make donations as he sees fit.
"We want to be able to give a good part of that back," said Browning, who is the only Florida superintendent currently not taking a salary.
Once he joins the payroll, the superintendent will jump to the top of the district's pay scale, which also looks different in other ways from when Fiorentino was at the helm.
For instance, just two other administrators make six-figure salaries, compared to six at the end of Fiorentino's term. The others retired. Another six administrators earning between $90,000 and $99,999 have left the district, as well, leaving 11 employees in that category.
Some officials who carried over did see raises, generally in conjunction with new job responsibilities.
Former Wiregrass Ranch High principal Ray Bonti, now the executive director of support services, moved up $3,378 to become the district's third-highest paid employee. Kevin Shibley, formerly employee relations director, got a $9,984 raise when he became executive director for operations.
Also notable, two of the top 10 highest-paid employees aren't administrators at all. They're district physical therapists, assigned to work with fragile special needs students.
The district strives to keep the pay for these specialists competitive to ensure they don't leave for private sector jobs. The average physical therapist salary in the Tampa area exceeds $70,000, according to several websites that track such information. The Hillsborough school district pays physical therapists up to $87,072, and the Pinellas district pays up to $64,579.
School Board members have asked Browning for details of how the cost of his administration compares to that of the previous team, with the final budget approval just a month away.
Browning continues to assign new job titles to several department workers, though, some of whom are pushed into new pay categories. Until that effort is complete, a direct comparison of the number of administrators and their total pay between the two leadership teams is not possible.
Browning has pledged to keep the costs of his reorganization neutral, and to reduce expenses if possible.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.