We wish that schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt would have said thanks, but no thanks, when the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County narrowly voted to award him a $10,000 bonus.
That would have inspired us to use this space to commend Hunt for a magnanimous gesture when educators’ jobs are increasingly difficult because of a lack of money, with teachers having to instruct without textbooks and buy their own supplies, and with teacher assistants in short supply.
Hunt could have earmarked the money to meet some of those educational needs. With more than 40 schools, $10,000 wouldn’t have stretched far, but it would have been a great message to send to employees of the school system that he leads.
But the money isn’t ours, so our suggestion that Hunt give it up is easily offered. Likewise, we doubt many critics of the bonus — an unscientific poll by The Robesonian shows there are plenty, with 88 percent of the respondents opposing it — would have done anything other than deposit the check into their bank accounts had it been offered to them.
If you are bothered by the bonus, direct your angst toward the school board, which made the decision, and not Hunt, who benefited from it.
Some members of the school board are eager to push money in Hunt’s direction. Last year they argued for a $25,000 raise for Hunt before the full board settled on a $10,000 raise for a new three-year contract. The raise was retroactive, so it adds up to $40,000 over the life of the contract.
Then on Feb. 12, the school board, pointing to Hunt’s evaluation, voted 5-4 for the $10,000 bonus, although a bonus is not called for in Hunt’s contract.
Perhaps some school board members worry that Hunt, the superintendent since 2006, has a seven-year itch. We don’t doubt that Hunt could find other opportunities, but he is a career educator perched on the top rung in his native county. He also just signed a new contract.
None of this is to argue that Hunt is overpaid or unworthy of the bonus. His salary of about $185,000 is in line with superintendents of similarly sized systems in the state, and there have been victories in the school system that board members say were reflected in his evaluation, which prompted the bonus.
Board members we spoke with who opposed the bonus said their position wasn’t based on performance; they said they could not justify a bonus for Hunt while other educators in the system who are doing good work have to settle for a pat on the back.
One of those board members is Severeo Kerns, who is recovering from heart surgery and was not at the Feb. 12 meeting. Why did the board vote on the matter with Kerns — whose no vote was not a secret — missing? (We want to say publicly that we don’t find it suspect that the board voted on the matter without our reporter in the audience. That is on us, not the board.)
It is all such a PR disaster — and the timing could hardly be worse, coming as residents are angry that our county commissioners ignore their pleas for fiscal responsibility while stuffing their own pockets.
It’s clear that too many of our elected officials will do as they please, apparently unconcerned about a voter backlash. We won’t know until May 2014 whether they are being foolhardy — or the voters continue to be fooled.