Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Nathaniel Macon, January 12, 1819
For the third time in less than a month I discovered news relevant to Sanford, NC from media sources outside of Lee County. I couldn’t help but wonder what it might take for our own hometown newspaper to find and report the news many of us yearn to read.
The latest incident revolves around a Carolina Journal report, dated June 29, 2011, in which author David Bass discloses information he discovered on Lee County School Superintendent Jeff Moss. Much of Mr. Bass’ comparative analysis and several of the statements he acquired have not been reported in the Sanford Herald. This is information Lee County citizens have a right to know. Rumor has it that the Herald Publisher is aware of the Carolina Journal article, refuses to acknowledge its validity, and has declined to publish it in the Herald. This author hopes those rumors are erroneous. (No one wants to think our almost daily newspaper is willfully witholding information of interest to our citizens. Doing so would cast it among the other bird cage liners we already have in abundance.)
For the benefit of Lee County readers, Mr. Bass’ article is at this URL: http://www.carolinajournal.com/articles/display_story.html?id=7955
In the article Bass cites the salary and benefits of Dr. Jeff Moss in Lee County, Tony Tata in the Wake County School District, and Peter Gorman from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District. Bass illustrates just how close Moss is in salary and benefits to these other two superintendents despite the fact they manage budgets, schools, staff, and students of up to 15 times the size of Lee County’s.
Mr. Bass’ original online posting, now pared down, showed Moss’ salary and compensation amounting to over $200K per year. Total compensation, excluding some of Moss’ benefits, was a staggering cost of $21.42 per enrolled student in the county. By comparison, Bass reported the cost of Mr. Tata for Wake County was $1.78 per student; while Dr. Gorman costs Mecklenberg County about $2.00 a student. This fact is inescapable: Moss manages a school system that is just 8-10% of the size of these two systems; yet he is compensated at a rate 1000% higher than his counterparts as measured by per capita enrollment (also known as ADM).
Although he prepared a fine article overall, there were a few things Mr. Bass failed to disclose, though this certainly should not be taken as a criticism of his investigative journalism which our local beat reporters would do well to emulate. Dr. Moss receives even more compensation than Bass reported. According to Moss’ most recent contract extension, which Bass conveniently links to from his article, Dr. Moss receives $1200 a year in term insurance payments, $4800 a year in dependent healthcare benefits, and up to $4450 in unused vacation payments. Therefore, his total compensation (excluding normal benefits all school employees receive) is somewhere in the neighborhood of $217,262 per annum. By my calculations, Dr. Moss actually is compensated at a rate of $22.50 per student per year.
Another item outside the scope of Mr. Bass’ article, but still worthy of evaluation by an intrepid reporter, is the performance of Lee County schools in proportion to the superintendent’s pay. In many industries executives are paid, in part, based on their measured performance. Not so with Dr. Moss. In most measured and reported categories, Lee County schools lag behind state averages. Contrast that performance with the Wake and Mecklenberg County school superintendents who are achieving well above state averages among their many schools. Since Dr. Moss’ arrival in Lee County our schools consistently have failed to meet the state average in SAT scores, have consistently exceeded the state’s high school drop-out rate, and have regularly scored below state averages in math and english end-of-grade testing. Even those of us outside the educational bureaucracy can see that Moss’ compensation does not derive from superior performance or scope of responsibility.
Truly, the one category in which Lee County leads the state is in the arena of legal entanglements and external reporting on such matters. Dr. Moss has been a lightning rod for legal issues all of his career. His short tenure in Lee County certainly follows his pattern of lawsuits and hearings in previous school systems. As one example, his recent persecution of the Smithwick student from Southern Lee high School left the county vulnerable to a tort lawsuit and could easily have escalated to another NC Supreme Court case like King v. Beaufort County, a case Dr. Moss mishandled during his earlier stint as superintendent there. Fortunately for Lee County taxpayers, Dr. Moss’ contract does not (yet) contain a provision to reward him for the number of lawsuits he attracts.
One day I hope our elected school officials will find an affordable, even-tempered superintendent who truly cares about students and teachers, and who earns his keep. In the mean time, our citizens remain in search of reliable news reporting on Dr. Moss’ compensation and performance.