DeKalb Schools’ new superintendent could make $325,000 plus perks

If approved, DeKalb County School District's superintendent finalist is set to earn $325,000 a year, despite having never previously led a school system.

Cheryl Watson-Harris, currently first deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education, was announced June 4 as finalist for the district's top job, nearly a month after the board voted not to hire its first choice. Under the terms of her contract, received by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, Watson-Harris also stands to receive $1,500 in monthly expenses that do not require receipts, a company car or a $600-a-month car allowance, and an $12,000 annual supplemental retirement contribution, among other perks.

“Cheryl Watson-Harris is part of the next generation of outstanding leaders in public education,” DeKalb County Board of Education chairman Marshall Orson said when announcing Watson-Harris as the district's superintendent finalist. “A proven change agent, Cheryl is described as a ‘champion for children.’ She fits the criteria desired by the DeKalb community, including her dedication to high levels of academic achievement, her experience helping lead large, diverse, urban districts, her commitment to equity for all students and her ability to plan with a long-term vision for the District.”

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Technically, it's not the largest base salary for a district superintendent. The DeKalb County Board of Education raised Ramona Tyson's base annual salary to $350,000 at its April board meeting when it made her superintendent on a full-time basis, but the only for the last 70 or so days of her tenure. Tyson is set to retire at the end of this month.

Former Superintendent Steve Green made $300,000 a year plus perks — including a $2,600-per-month expense allowance and annual bonuses of up to $22,000 — that brought his pay close to $400,000.

The salary would put Watson-Harris just ahead of the base salary for incoming Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring, at $320,000, but behind the other superintendents of metro Atlanta's largest districts. They also are the only two women.

Watson-Harris has to make it through a 14-day waiting period after being named a finalist before she can officially be offered the job. The board voted on May 11 not to hire Rudy Crew, president of New York's Medgar Evers College, as the district's superintendent after announcing him as the sole finalist for the position on April 23.

School board member Joyce Morley took issue with the planned compensation package, mentioning that Watson-Harris has yet to receive her doctorate, that other educators working in the district are paid based on their level of education.

According to her resume, Watson-Harris is expected to receive her doctorate from New York University next spring.

"People should be paid for their education," said Morley, a longtime educator and psychotherapist. "If you're going to base peoples' pay on a scale based on their education, if you're going to base their pay on theirs and not hers ... you're discriminating against these people.