Burned by Burns?

Such generosity we Orange County taxpayers show. Why, just look at the salary Nancy Oatesand benefits package we are paying County School Superintendent Del Burns — an annual rate of nearly $300,000. Add up his base pay, health coverage, a monthly car allowance of $250 and another $50 a month toward his cell phone, and we are paying Burns $24,621 a month. That generous, some might say exorbitant, pay is for working only three-quarters time. His contract grants him five paid vacation days every month.

Burns is not the highest-paid county schools superintendent in North Carolina. But those who receive comparable pay oversee school systems with three to eight times the number of students in Orange County. And his peers likely work full time.

What makes Burns worth a compensation package that equals the salary of the president of the United States? According to county school board chair Steve Halkiotis: “He has brought a level of professionalism in our operations and systems that was much needed. … He has rejuvenated the staff.”

Sounds like a basic part of the job description to me.

Certainly teachers, who make in the $30,000 to $60,000 range, need some shoring up after the dissing they got by the General Assembly and governor during this past election year. Will seeing the riches showered on their boss have a trickle-down effect on their morale?

Orange County has extra money in its pockets this year, due to a combination of higher sales tax revenue from the recovering economy and higher property taxes that come from valuations made before the real estate market crashed. But that doesn’t mean we should spend like drunken sailors.

The Orange County schools have some serious problems of failing buildings and failing students. We need to give careful consideration to how to spend to maximize the benefit to the community. Paying someone to stay in a job he doesn’t want does not seem the right path.

Burns’ contract is for five months only. Apparently he was so ready to leave the job before the end of the school year that his devotion had to be bought. An employee who is only there for the money likely is not fully engaged. The county would have been better off appointing an interim superintendent who really wants the job.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie

     /  December 22, 2014

    It’s hard to condone Burns comp but it’s the unfortunate consequence of management by crisis. This is the continuation of the Gerri Martin saga. Remember she left in a hurry and Burns stepped in as interim. I don’t remember exactly, but that was at least 6 months ago -maybe more, The school board has made little progress toward finding a permanent leader I’m not sure what’s taking so long.

    The good news is.that Burns has brought in some outstanding professionals to work for OCS. Plus, the decision to extend his contract seems to have had a impact on the schools and the district, so it’s not all bad.

    I also hate the double standard. CHCCS should have been criticized for spending hundreds of thousands for architects to develop its facilities wish list and more to have Nothwood LEEDS certified, (common practice is to build to the standard but not waste money on the certification).

    For many reasons, our schools are stuggling. OCS has 3 title 1 schools with poor EOGs and high teacher turnover, the achievement gap remains a problem in both districts.

    Imagine if we took school performance as seriously as we take recycling?

  2. bonnie hauser

     /  December 22, 2014

    Yes exactly – wouldn’t you prefer press releases about excellence in education rather than architectural awards.

    Here’s what Wake just announced http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/12/21/4420638/wake-county-to-provide-millions.html?rh=1

    Maybe that’s why people are clamoring to move to Wake and not Orange

  3. Fred Black

     /  December 22, 2014

    Bonnie, maybe you missed the significance of this school being built on the site of the former Northside (not Northwood) School and what it means to the community. Winning an architectural award said a lot to the community and for reasons most were able to grasp. The CHCCS has had press releases on many educational awards, so having one on a amazing learning facility troubles me not in the least.

  4. David Schwartz

     /  December 22, 2014

    “Wouldn’t you prefer press releases about excellence in education rather than architectural awards.”

    Well, there is this:

    We can quibble about whether Chapel Hill actually belongs on this list given that the population served by the CHCCS district exceeds 80,000. However, I think the larger point is that, while we on the inside are well aware of all the challenges facing our schools, to folks on the outside, who see only the crude statistics such as graduation rate and per pupil spending, our schools still look pretty good by comparison with the rest of the country.


  5. many

     /  December 22, 2014

    Fred, maybe you missed the significance that there is still a large and well documented achievement gap:


    The questions remain; would that LEEDs money and effort have been better spent elsewhere? Does an “amazing learning facility” in an of itself help to bridge that achievement gap? Does it make sense that the County School Superintendent makes an order of magnitude more per year than some of the teaching staff?

    Perhaps the answer to all of those question is different than what I think they are, but you have done nothing to advance that discussion.

  6. Fred Black

     /  December 22, 2014

    Dear Whomever,

    I was discussing Northside in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, not the superintendent in the Orange County Schools. And if you look at what’s happening at Northside (Not Northwood as previously written by Bonnie), you will find that they are making progress there.

    Please go and pick a fight with someone interested in playing your silly game.

  7. many

     /  December 22, 2014

    My friend Fred, The achievement gap in CHCCS was the topic of the article I linked. The gap and the questions remain regardless of your apparent inability to respond with salient points.

    The topic of Nancy’s article is the Orange County school superintendents compensation, which is relevant.

    It is you, once again my friend that is playing the silly games; dodging legitimate questions, sniping and reflexively defending rather than responding with an open mind or points of your own.

  8. Fred Black

     /  December 22, 2014

    Whomever, did you not notice that I was responding to Bonnie, not the article?


  9. many

     /  December 22, 2014

    My friend Fred, you posted to a open topic on a public forum. I too experienced the cognitive dissonance generated by your focus on spelling and link to a mostly irrelevant architectural award rather than the issue at hand.

    I seriously do not understand how you expect to continue to snipe without adding anything germane and not be challenged.

  10. bonnie hauser

     /  December 22, 2014

    Fred- sorry to say – but Many nailed it. Its hard to gripe about compensation for a single, interim employee when so much money is going to architects and awards that build their resumes.

    Sadly, the achievement gap is alive and well in CHCCS. The Northside community is part of Zone 6 which was recently selected for the family success alliance because of their interest in community services. .

    Hard to believe that the neighbors cared about Northside’s architectural prestige.

  11. Terri Buckner

     /  December 23, 2014

    The facility matters in many ways. It serves as a source of pride in a neighborhood that has historically been disadvantaged and is now undergoing significant cultural stress. When people feel like they have value, as signified by nice facilities, good teachers and some amenities, it increases self esteem (self worth) which in turn makes them more likely to believe they can learn.

    Long term, building a sustainable structure also means a reduction in operating expenses. Building to LEEDS standards is to the community’s economic benefit.

  12. Terri

     /  December 23, 2014

    Throwing the achievement gap into the conversation is a red herring. Northside is a new school so construction funds weren’t in competition with operating funds. Since operating funds will be lower in a sustainably built facility, there should be more programming funds available.

  13. Fred Black

     /  December 23, 2014

    Terri gets it, as usual!

    Bonnie, I would like to talk with you at some point and try to help you understand what is at work here. Like the Rogers Road community, when you’ve been “dumped” on for so long and marginalized to such an extent, it is hard for some in the broader community to grasp why having something new and nice matters. Yes, “they” care.

  14. David Schwartz

     /  December 23, 2014

    I hesitate to enter the fray here, but I want to call attention to an interview (see video link below) with former Bogota Mayor (and Duke alum) Enrique Penalosa that I think illustrates Terri’s and Fred’s point about the value of providing historically disadvantaged groups with high-quality infrastructure.

    About 4 1/2 minutes into the video, Penalosa describes how investing in a high-quality network of bicycle paths communicated to the people of Bogota that those who may not be wealthy enough to own a car are just as important as those who do own one.


    We benefit from having both high quality infrastructure (i.e., well designed school buildings) and high quality services (e.g., the teaching that goes on in those buildings). We shouldn’t have to choose between the two. We’re an affluent community; we should be able to provide both.

  15. bonnie hauser

     /  December 23, 2014

    Fred – no worries – I know Northside and the challenges of student housing and gentrification. I’m pleased that there’s a new school and more pleased that it came in at $21 million instead of the original estimate of $31 million (I don’t know what happened to the $4 million originally estimated for architects). Policy is that both districts build to a standard – and hopefully every school is something that our communities are proud of.

    There’s a big difference between high quality structures and architectural prestige. Even UNC and Duke build to green standard – but avoid the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the certification that only benefits the architect’s resume.

    If we’re going to get pissed about Burns comp, lets also get pissed about architectural extravagances that are above and beyond good quality schools. And today – with school facilities failing and a $125 million bond looming, its hard to believe that there’s discretionary funds around.

  16. Fred Black

     /  December 23, 2014

    Please note Bonnie that I have not commented on how much the Superientent is being compensated. And contrary to what “Whomever” seems to want, I’ll continue to decide what I desire to discuss.

  17. many

     /  December 23, 2014

    The achievement gap was there and festering long before construction funds were even discussed. So no, its not a red herring. The question remains; would those funds have been better spent reducing class size, hiring tutors or increasing teachers salaries?

    While i recognize the difference in the structures purpose, LEEDs still seems a bizarre point of pride when juxtaposed with the Northside brew-ha over Greenbridge.