It’s damned embarrassing to pick up a copy of The Roanoke Times and find a story that should have been ours. I have nothing against the Times. I worked there in the 60s. Shawna Morrison, who covers courts, is a good friend. So are some others.
But picking up the New River Current this past weekend and reading that the Floyd County School Board may be looking for a way to lay some big raises on superintendent Terry Arbogast at a time when teachers have gone without raises and may be laid off leaves us with red faces from both embarrassment and anger.
The school budget eats up most of the county’s $30 million plus annual budget yet the specifics of that budget are controlled, by an large, by the school board with little oversight from the Board of Supervisors. Some supervisors last year had the gall to suggest the board actually take the time to review some some line items in the school board’s budget, but that incredible idea got voted down by those who believe the school board should have the right to do any darned thing it wants.
Which now leaves us with the embarrassing situation of an apparent backdoor attempt to pad the salary of 18-year-school superintendent Terry Arbogast. The discussions have, of course, been behind closed doors. Virginia law allows backroom talks when it comes to employee matters but school board members have also played a hide and seek game with those trying to find out relevant information that is public record.
Arbogast, who underwent heart surgery last year, planned to retire next summer. But the school board voted to extend his contract for another two years and “renogotiate” his $118,712 contract by adding some benefits from other accounts that don’t normally show up as salary figures.
Some of the school administrator’s opponents have long claimed that the school board hides the true total of his annual salary by burying parts of it in various other line items of the budget. Supervisors who have asked for more detail tell me that they still don’t understand how the supervisor’s salary structure works.
Floyd’s School Board hired Arbogast in 1993 for $64,500. Since then, he salary has grown by at least 84 percent (if the claimed $118,712 is his “actual” current salary. Some, including some members of the board of supervisors, suspect it is more). The current median family income in Floyd County is $38,128. The current average teacher salary in Floyd County, according to teachersalaryinfo.com, starts at $33,815.
The City of Winchester, Virginia, with 25,897 residents, six schools and some 3,500 students, pays its superintendent $137,000 a year. Winchester’s median family income is $44,675.
When Roanoke Times reporter Anna Mallory tried to reach Floyd County School Board Chairman Doug Phillips or vice chairman Clay Link, neither had he courtesy to return her phone calls. I’m not surprised. I’ve known some of the school board members for years and get the sane cold shoulder.
The school board members seem to forget they are “public servants” who work for residents and taxpayers. They owe county residents a full and complete explanation of any changes to the superintendent’s contract and the full details of those changes. Salaries of county and state officials are public record and if I have no hesitation in filing a Freedom of Information Request to get that information.
The school system has put off raises for teachers and other school employees, citing tight budgets and declining funding from state and federal sources. If the board slips a raise through for the superintendent at a time when others are denied raises and even others face layoffs their actions will be inexcusable.
It’s also time for the county board of supervisors to remember that the school board reports to the country government and not the other way around. A little leadership from the supervisors could be a welcome change of pace.