Atlanta Public Schools’ chief Beverly Hall is the only metro area school superintendent — and possibly the only one in Georgia — who has an employee routinely assigned to drive her and provide personal security.
The arrangement is not necessarily unusual for an urban school system. But it is an expense that continues as Atlanta, among other Georgia school systems, faces drastic budget cuts prompted by the recession.
The APS officer who drives Hall and provides personal security earned $102,300 last year, nearly half for overtime, according to state and school system records.
Similarly, the previous year the school system paid police veteran Barbara A. Duncan more than $98,700, nearly half earned for overtime.
Duncan’s title is security analyst. In that job, she coordinates day-to-day security at APS headquarters, assists with investigations and conducts safety workshops, among other duties, reporting to the system’s security director.
She also accompanies the superintendent to meetings and events around the city during the business day and after-hours, APS officials said.
Last year, her base pay was $56,258. The year before, it was $53,479. But over the past two years, Duncan has supplemented that with more than $90,600 in overtime.
APS officials said the expense is justified by safety concerns, since Hall attends night meetings across the city and she often works in the car. Hall also defended the expense in a telephone interview.
“I’m not a prima donna. I’m very, very sensitive to the economic times we are in,” said Hall. She said her 12-hour workdays can mean she is one of the last people to leave APS downtown headquarters at night.
“I’m looking for a way to do my work efficiently and effectively ... and not have to worry about, ‘Am I safe or not safe,’ ” Hall said. “This allows me to continue my focus on the work. It’s providing the assurance of safety and has greatly contributed to my overall productivity.”
In May, APS finalized a $589 million budget that reduces annual spending by $67 million for the 2010-11 school year. The austerity measures include increasing class sizes, two involuntary furlough days for all employees and a systemwide pay freeze. All departments have to take 10 percent reductions.
System officials said they also are working to reduce overtime, including the use of staggered shifts for maintenance, custodial services and security.
Atlanta parent Shawnna Hayes Tavares believes money is better spent on students.
Tavares, who sends four children to Atlanta schools, said she asked for interactive white boards and video-capable telephones to help her son who is hearing impaired, but was told they are too expensive.
“Then, to hear things like this, it upsets me,” Hayes Tavares said. “If one position is being dealt with like this, then what other areas across the board are we also not putting more money into the schools? It is not responsible.”
In written responses to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, APS officials said Atlanta leaders including former Mayor Andrew Young recommended to Hall when she arrived 11 years ago that she be accompanied traveling around the city by a security officer.
At the time, Atlanta ranked among the most violent cities in the nation. Last year, it dropped to 18th among the most violent.
Concerns include what Thelma Mumford-Glover, an executive consultant to the superintendent, said were direct threats by ex-employees who show up angry at the system’s central office.
Officials said Hall “attends many events at night, some of which are in areas that are unsafe where crime is an issue.” They also said Hall conducts business in the car.
“As head of a major urban school district, Dr. Hall is constantly on the phone and engaged in district business while traveling to various locations,” APS officials wrote in their response. “For safety reasons, it is appropriate that Ms. Duncan drive so that Dr. Hall can make efficient use of her time and focus on performing her duties as superintendent.”
The system hired Duncan in 2006 as a security analyst with a salary of $50,592. Duncan, who spent nearly 28 years with the Atlanta Police Department, said in her application she wanted a career change.
Hall’s contract specifies APS will provide and maintain for her a late-model, full-size automobile. The contract does not stipulate a driver. That vehicle, according to APS officials, “has very low miles, and is rarely used.”
The car Duncan drives is an APS-owned security vehicle with a two-way police radio and other equipment. The security car is the one the superintendent often travels in.
Hall said APS looked at hiring a second officer to split the work Duncan does. It discarded the idea, so far, because the annual pay for that second officer would cost more than the overtime Duncan earned, Hall said.
It is not unusual for a school system to provide a superintendent with a car or transportation allowance as part of the contract. The use of a driver and security detail appears more prevalent in urban school systems.
In Boston, the city superintendent drives her own car. In Cleveland, the school system’s CEO has two security officers — one for day, one for evening — who also drive for him. In Chicago, the city schools’ CEO takes public transportation to work but also uses a “pool” driver who is available to other system officials. The superintendent in Fresno, Calif., is provided neither a driver nor a security detail.
Closer to home, Gwinnett County Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks receives a transportation allowance totaling $18,000 a year. Cobb County school Superintendent Fred Sanderson receives $9,600 annually.
Fulton County school Superintendent Cindy Loe receives an auto allowance of $9,600 a year. She drives her own car.
“I’m not aware of anybody else who does it,” Stuart Bennett, executive director of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, said of Hall using a driver.
Given across-the-board cuts faced by schools as funding plummets, “I imagine it would come under scrutiny,” said Bennett, speaking generally.
“Everything’s being looked at right now. It is hard to ask the rank and file to take a cut” if system leaders are not doing the same, he said.
School chiefs’ car costs
It’s not unusual for a school system to provide a car or security for a superintenent, but the cost varies.
Amount the Atlanta Public Schools officer who drives Superintendent Beverly Hall and provides personal security earned last year, nearly half for overtime
Annual transportation allowance for Gwinnett County Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks.
Annual transportation allowance for Cobb County Superintendent Fred Sanderson.
Annual auto allowance for Fulton County Superintendent Cindy Loe.
How we got the story
Based on a tip, the AJC requested information about Atlanta Public Schools security analyst Barbara A. Duncan that included her salary, date of hire and job competencies. The newspaper compared payroll data supplied by the school system to the state auditor with detailed records the system provided to the AJC. The AJC also interviewed Atlanta school Superintendent Beverly Hall and other top school officials, and reviewed the practices of systems in metro Atlanta and across the nation.
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