Johnny Hunt, the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, is an easy mark, perched as he is atop a school system with 44 schools, 2,700 employees, 24,000 students and — in an ideal world — twice that many parents, but certainly a few less.
Hunt carries a big stick, one that he wields in trying to improve the educational opportunities in Robeson County, not an easy assignment in a place where education hasn’t always been prized. He probably makes at least one enemy with every decision he makes, and he makes a lot of decisions every day, thousands a year — many of which are heavy.
He is well-paid as he deserves to be: His salary, $185,000 a year following a recent raise, is about seven times the average wage in Robeson County.
So we know there were groans last week when the Robeson County Board of Education bumped Hunt’s pay by $10,000 a year while extending his contract by three years, a decision that came in a 6 to 3 vote. Hunt would have preferred that the vote had been unanimous, but our understanding is that the three no votes were not necessarily a protest of the job the superintendent is doing, but were symbolic — a nod to Robeson County’s economic rut, and a concern that the message would not be well-received by the people, including those who vote for the school board.
While Hunt is paid well, he isn’t overpaid, at least when compared with superintendents of similarly sized counties. According to the North Carolina School Boards Association the superintendent of New Hanover County, where there are about 24,300 students, makes $200,000 a year, the superintendent of Alamance Count, 22,400 students, makes $201,000 a year, and the superintendent of Moore County, which has half as many students at 12,528 students, makes $172,000.
That’s comparing apples with apples, which falls short of the whole story. Hunt leads a district in a tri-racial community in one of the poorest county’s in the state, one without the riches to prop up education, and in a county with a history of an undereducated population. These things complicate Hunt’s task.
But there have been measurable improvements in test scores and a surge in the local graduation rate. Additionally, Hunt and school board members have managed to maneuver the system without the drama that has burdened previous administrations.
All this weighs in favor of Hunt actually being underpaid — although we don’t expect to hear him complaining.
Our thinking would be different had the school board, at the same meeting during which Hunt’s new contract was announced, not also decided to hire back more than 40 teacher’s assistants who were idled during the last school year because of cuts in state funding. To have given the superintendent a raise while leaving classrooms short-staffed would have been a mammoth-sized PR blunder, and raised questions about the board’s priorities.
As it is, there really isn’t much to complain about, although we know some will.