Orangeburg Superintendent Pockets $84K “bonus”

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Superintendent is getting a questionable payout as teachers are forced to furlough.

In late June, the Voice received a anonymous letter detailing more financial shenanigans in Orangeburg School District Five.

Orangeburg Five Melvin Smoaks Superintendent

The author suggested that the local superintendent worked behind the scenes with members of the School Board to massively inflate his daily pay.

Lee Tant, of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, just published a great article detailing exactly how District Superintendent Melvin Smoak is “supplementing” his salary:

Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Superintendent Melvin Smoak has received more than $84,000 as compensation for vacation and sick days he didn’t use over the past 35 years.

Normally, district employees are paid just $40 a day for unused sick days. But in 2006, the board amended Smoak’s contract to apply his daily pay rate for each day of unused sick leave he accumulated at the end of the contract.

[Smoak] was given two raises after the amendment was made, which boosted his daily pay rate to $540, according to his contract.

Tant then explains that according to official district policy, unused sick days can accumulate from year-to-year. But district employees can only carry over 10 vacation days to the next year. Any unused vacation days beyond that are lost at the end of the year.

Even before the $84,000 “bonus” roll-over of sick day pay (gathered over a career, but reimbursed at his peak salary) Smoak was doing very well for himself as a so-called “public servant.”

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 international economic crisis has not kept him from receiving another “performance based” raise for 2008-2009. That year his total salary exceeded $129,000 as well as a district- financed automobile.

Meanwhile, classroom teachers working for Smoak in District Five have been forced to endure mandatory furloughs and pay cuts.

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 were very hard to come by. When the information was requested, Smoak demanded $5,000  to answer a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for copies of receipts from his “conference travel.”

In light of the poverty of his district, and his already massive salary, Smoak has a difficult time trying to portray these travel costs as legitimate.

Publicly available information points to the general failure of Orangeburg 5 public schools in breaking the community’s tragic 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 was 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.”

There is no objective basis on which Smoak can make this claim on behalf of the children who have no choice but to enroll in his system of failure. The very fact that he can expect ( and receive) frequent bonuses for “good performance” show that cronyism and greed are the forces pushing his administration, not educating children. One can only wonder how many others in Smoak’s employ and influence are operating on his modus operandi of “take them for all I can get.”

Without a doubt, Smoak is using his office-and the public trust- to wring every penny he can get out of his district, and will probably keep at it until stopped.

Families in Orangeburg 5 deserve better. Education leaders, and other school district administrators, should condemn Smoak’s greed, and work for increased accountability and transparency in their districts and others.

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