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2015-10-28 / Front Page

Newsome’s retirement perk raises eyebrows

Contract includes ‘consulting’ fees to be paid after resigning
By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER

Now that the county’s school superintendent has announced his plan to retire next July, some citizens hope a controversial fringe benefit in his contract goes with him.

Under terms of the contract approved by the School Board in December 2013, Marcus Newsome will receive 28 percent of his final base salary annually for five years after he terminates his employment with Chesterfield County Public Schools, provided he makes himself available 10 days a year for “consulting” with the current superintendent.

Newsome’s base salary was increased to $221,496 in 2013 to reflect a 5 percent raise that was provided to all school employees to offset state-mandated contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. It was unclear as of press time whether Newsome had received, as stipulated in his contract, any annual increases in pay similar to the “percentage increase afforded senior management personnel.”

Based on Newsome’s salary as approved in 2013, however, 28 percent represents $62,018.88.

Based on the 2013 salary, over five years, the contracting clause will cost Chesterfield taxpayers a total of $310,094.40 in addition to Newsome’s other retirement benefits.

Even if Newsome actually works eight hours on each of the 10 days he is required to be “available,” that breaks down to $775.24 per hour. “It’s totally ludicrous,” said county resident Ron Hayes. “You can hire the most top-notch consulting firm in the country and you wouldn’t have to pay that.”

Newsome is the third Chesterfield schools superintendent to have such a “consulting” clause in his contract.

The contracts of former superintendents Bill Bosher and Billy Cannaday specified that both men receive 20 percent of their final base pay for seven years after tendering their resignations.

That language carried over into Newsome’s original contract when he was hired in 2006 to replace Cannaday, who had resigned to take over as state superintendent of public instruction.

The School Board changed the terms in 2011, increasing the percentage of his final salary to 28 percent while reducing the number of years he’d receive the benefit from seven to five.

Two years earlier, county watchdog Brenda Stewart had strongly criticized the inclusion of the consulting clause, noting that Newsome wouldn’t be required to work to receive the additional money; he’d merely have to make himself “available” for 10 days.

The School Board “dumped the piggy bank on him big time,” Stewart said in 2009.

But Marshall Trammell, then chairman of the School Board, defended the superintendent’s contract and said it was comparable to those of Newsome’s peers in other localities.

“We feel we are very fortunate to have someone of Dr. Newsome’s caliber to guide us through these troubled waters,” Trammell added.

When he came to Chesterfield from Newport News, Newsome inherited a school system that was, in the words of an official with the Virginia Education Association, “highly functional” and “running well.”

Under Cannaday’s leadership, the percentage of county schools fully accredited by the state more than doubled in just five years. Less than 50 percent of the schools were fully accredited when Cannaday took the job; that number was 100 percent when Cannaday left.

But less than three years after Newsome was hired, the bottom fell out of the economy. A slumping real estate market led to a precipitous drop in local revenues, and county leaders embarked on a multiyear plan of budget cuts.

The school system lost 500 positions – most of which were eliminated through attrition and retirements – and nearly $80 million in funding between fiscal years 2009 and 2011.

The budget cuts coincided with a move by the state Department of Education to increase the difficulty of Standards of Learning exams, and scores on the tougher tests plummeted across the state.

Last year, 15 of the county’s 61 public schools were accredited with warning, based on the results of state-mandated SOL tests. That was three times the number of local schools accredited with warnings in 2013.

As the economy slogged its way out of recession, county leaders have gradually restored $60 million of the lost school funding over the past three years.

The schools’ budget of $578.5 million for fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, included money to hire more than 100 new teachers and reduce the pupil-teacher ratio by 1 system-wide.

With the economy improving, Newsome said, the school system is on more solid footing. Teacher salaries have increased, and the county’s students are posting gains in both test scores and graduation rates.

“Given our stability, the time is right to hand the baton off to a new leader who will build on our successes,” he added.

It remains to be seen whether Chesterfield’s new superintendent will inherit the consulting clause given to Bosher, Cannaday and Newsome.

“If I’m on the board, somebody is going to have to explain that one to me,” said Rob Thompson, who is running for the Matoaca District’s seat on the School Board.

Thompson, a business owner and retired U.S. Navy officer, expressed skepticism that the new school superintendent would feel compelled to consult with Newsome for anywhere near 10 days.

“If it was me, I might call and ask a few questions during the initial transition. After that, it’s my job and I’ll do it my way,” he added.

Thompson’s opponent, retired Chesterfield teacher Bill Hastings, said he’d want to “take a hard look” and “think very carefully” about what to include in the superintendent’s contract.

“We need to attract a top-notch person, so we need [the compensation package] to be competitive,” Hastings said.

The Observer obtained copies of the contracts for the current school superintendents in Henrico and Richmond, and the former superintendent in Hanover.

While Richmond Superintendent Dana Bedden’s contract includes a number of incentives based on student performance, none of the region’s three other largest school systems offer any post-separation benefit similar to the consulting clause in Newsome’s deal.

Neither do the school systems in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties or the city of Virginia Beach.

Carrie Coyner, the School Board’s current chairwoman, said the board will be “starting from scratch” as it launches a search for Newsome’s replacement.

Asked if the consulting clause should be included in the new superintendent’s contract, Coyner was noncommittal.

“We want to hire the best superintendent in the country,” she added. “We’ll have to wait and see what the market looks like.”

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