Should Hernando County school superintendent Wayne Alexander be given a 14 percent pay raise, a two-year contract extension and have his automobile allowance doubled? Absolutely not.
But should he be castigated for asking? Again, the answer is absolutely not.
Everyone who works hard believes he is underpaid, and Alexander is no exception. He believes he has accomplished most of the goals School Board members set for him, and so far the only significant criticism he has received has come from district employees who are not pleased with the administrative reorganization he began last month, and from some parents who do not like his edict to dress all K-8 students in uniforms.
Alexander, who has been on the job since August, interprets his record with confidence, which is a trait already abundant in his personality. Given that high opinion of performance, Alexander has every right — make that obligation — to better himself professionally and financially.
However, his bosses on the board, as well as taxpayers, also have every right — and obligation — to be surprised and even annoyed at his ill-timed proposal.
Hip-deep in a recession, just about every person and every business is being forced to make sacrifices to make ends meet. Many people are thankful to just have a job, and thoughts of getting any raise, much less a double-digit increase, are fantasy. Given that reality, Alexander should not be surprised that his pipe-dream proposal has drawn a negative, and in many cases, shrill reaction.
That said, it should be remembered that Alexander is using this proposal as a starting point for negotiations with the board; it is almost certain that he expects to receive less. The question then becomes, how much less?
It may be too soon to make that decision. The board may want to wait until it has some idea of what raises, if any, it can afford to give other school employees before determining Alexander's compensation. The board also will need to balance Alexander's salary increase against his request for a two-year rollover in his contract. A longer contract is in Alexander's best interest, so he might be willing to settle for a more modest pay raise. And, to the extent that a longer contract ensures stability in leadership, the board also benefits.
Alexander started at $119,000 a year, and the 14 percent increase he seeks would bring his salary to $135,000. He points out that amount still would be lower than the $140,000 average of similarly-sized school districts in Florida. And it is true that his salary is relatively modest compared to organizations in the private sector that employ 3,500 workers. But it is unrealistic for the superintendent to think that the School Board can make up the difference between his starting pay and his desired pay in the first year.
Board members are in the process of evaluating Alexander and will discuss it on May 6. If the consensus is that he's meeting or exceeding expectations, they should do their best to keep him motivated and satisfied. In doing so, however, they should not hesitate to remind him that during this precarious economy he, like most of his employees and the parents of the 23,000 children in his schools, will have to learn to do without much of what they deserve.