Saturday, April 19, 2014

EDITORIAL >> School chiefs key to future

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman told us this week he’s withdrawing his name for consideration as leader of the Fayetteville School District. He said his work in Cabot is not finished and his ties to the community are too strong to be lured away to Hog heaven in northwest Arkansas.

That’s good news for Cabot, which owes much of its success to its quality public schools. Thurman deserves a lot of the credit, as do the scores of teachers and administrators who make up his team. Under his leadership, several of the city’s schools have been ranked among the best in the state.

Had Thurman jumped ship, the community would have had little time to find a first-rate successor before the new school year starts in August.

Cities either thrive or languish depending on the quality of their schools. A case can be made that superintendents are as important as mayors. It seems that school boards and city councils understand that educating young people is the top priority.

School districts win out over city halls. Just look at the superintendents’ salaries:

Thurman’s annual pay is $174,000. Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert’s salary is about $90,000.

The Pulaski County Special School District’s interim superintendent, Jerry Guess, takes in $215,000 every year. And he manages one of the largest school systems in the state. It is also arguably one of the most financially and academically challenged in Arkansas. Though he will only be in charge of PCSSD for one more year, he could get a long-term contract when the district is freed from state supervision.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher’s salary is $89,000, and Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman is paid $87,419.

Both cities are part of PCSSD but hope to form their own districts soon. Jacksonville will vote in September to leave PCSSD and could hire a superintendent next year.

Guess would be a good choice to lead either city’s new district. Who is in a better position to understand the complicated issues of breaking up the district than him?

For comparison, state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, who lives in Cabot and was also up for the Fayetteville superintendent job, is paid about $220,000. As a political appointee, he will likely be replaced next year by a new governor since Gov. Mike Beebe is term-limited.

Kimbrell would also be an excellent choice to lead Jacksonville schools when they split from Pulaski County. After all, it was his call to have the state take over PCSSD. He’s also been supportive of Jacksonville’s efforts to gain control of its schools. As a Cabot resident, he sees what communities expect their schools to look like.

The smaller towns in our area also pay superintendents more than their mayors.

In Beebe, Belinda Shook is paid $135,410, and Mayor Mike Roberson gets $40,310.

Lonoke Superintendent Suzanne Bailey’s yearly salary is $105,000 compared to Mayor Wayne McGee’s $30,000.

Thurman, who will likely have a pay raise before next school year, was right to stay here. We hope Cabot residents understand their good fortune because he won’t stop until their city looks like a college town that even Fayetteville would envy.

Besides, he’s a Monticello Boll Weevil at heart.