From Monday’s Sun News:
Times are tough in Horry County. Parents are worried public schools will be hit hard by the budget crisis. Jim Rex, the state’s education superintendent, has warned of possible job cuts for teachers or a shortened school week to save bus fuel. Horry County’s own superintendent, Cynthia Elsberry, has talked about the need to “do less with more.”
Lawmakers recently met in Columbia to determine just how much state funding needs to be tightened. Longtime Horry County school board member Ronald Bessant wants targeted cuts. He explained: “We don’t hurt any of the areas where we’ve had or where we need student success.”
But some parents are skeptical about educators crying wolf. They wonder if the problem is one of spending priorities. According to the state legislature’s FY 2008-09 budget, Horry County Schools received $12,811 per child in combined local, state and federal funding for this school year. A look at the S.C. Budget and Control Board’s analysis of district spending shows that just 40 cents per dollar is allocated for “instruction,” with the rest of the money spent on administration, debt service, facilities and “other” expenses.
One obvious source of frustration for parents and teachers is the disproportionately high salary of Horry Superintendent Cynthia Elsberry. Her generous compensation package includes a $205,000 base salary; familywide coverage of medical; dental and disability insurance; choice of tax sheltered annuities; $100,000 in term life insurance; a minimum $850 per month in-district travel reimbursement and limitless out-of-district travel; and a golden parachute: If fired for any reason, Elsberry receives full payment for the rest of the school year.
In contrast to $205,000 made by Elsberry, the median family income in Horry County is just $42,676 – or one-fifth of Elsberry’s take-home before her generous benefits. Similarly, the district reports that its average teacher salary is $46,494, just over one-fifth of Elsberry’s. Perhaps most shocking to parents is how Elsberry’s compensation compares with her superior, Rex. Rex earns $92,007 according to the state salary database.
Rex makes less than half of Elsberry’s pay and is responsible for all public schools in the state. Also frustrating for parents in the district, the Horry County school board is still unwilling to release details of how Elsberry was selected for the superintendent’s position earlier this year, and what factors were considered in determining her enormously high salary. If school budgets in Horry County are as tight as parents have been led to believe, Elsberry should demonstrate fiscal leadership by forgoing a portion of her own salary before curtailing spending on classroom instruction or student transportation.
Mr. Page is president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government.