$7,743 in travel reimbursements for “conferences?”
Just icing on the cake for Orangeburg 5’s $129,000+ superintendent!
Budget cuts may be imminent for South Carolina’s public education system, but no one would know it judging from the personal spending of some school district superintendents.
In recent days, news of lavish travel reimbursements of tens of thousands of dollars and outlandish contract perks enjoyed by superintendents already earning over $100,000.00 have caused parents to question claims that schools lack money for teacher salaries and bus fuel.
The financial worries are particularly acute in low-income districts.
Case-in-point, Orangeburg District Five: The median income for a family in Orangeburg County is just $36,165. Poverty is chronic and 89.7% of the students are categorized as “low-income” by the Education Oversight Committee.
Orangeburg 5 public schools are not working to break the community’s cycle of poverty. In fact, the average SAT score in 2008 for Orangeburg 5 was 889, nearly 130 points below the national average, despite the fact that a mere 111 students in the district took the test. Proficiency in reading and math is also low, with only 22.3% of students in the district proficient at grade level in reading and writing, and a horrifying 17.5% of students proficient in math.
The sustained failure doesn’t bother District superintendent Melvin Smoak, and he has no qualms about saying so.
In a 2006 Times and Democrat article, Smoak is quoted as saying “When students leave this district, they can compete nationally, and there is an 89 percent minority student population in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five.”
Smoak’s assertion, that minority children ought to be held to a lowered standard, is offensive. More troubling is his willingness to accept ever greater sums in personal compensation from the district, despite the fact that children in his schools lack the skills needed for competitive jobs and higher education.
Since the signing of his initial $97,000 a year contract in 1999, Smoak has received annual pay increases and bonuses. In fact, Smoak is now making over $32,000 more a year than when he started in 1997. Even the growing economic crisis has not kept him from getting another “performance based” raise for 2008-2009. This year his total salary will exceed $129,000 and a district financed automobile.
Not satisfied with the level of luxury afforded to him as a “public servant” in a poverty-stricken area, Smoak spent an additional $7,743.21 of the taxpayers’ money traveling around to “conferences” in 2007-2008.
Details of this spending are hard to come by. Smoak recently demanded $5,000 to answer a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for copies of receipts from his “conference travel.”
If the plight of the poor students in Orangeburg has not moved Smoak to fiscal moderation, it is doubtful that stress over budget cuts will. His spending shows a total lack of restraint and accountability to the families in his district. Students in Orangeburg and throughout South Carolina deserve better.