Camden school shake-up likely

Posted: July 09, 2007

Besides a six-figure salary, Camden's new school superintendent gets a car, a $400 monthly gas allowance, a home computer and a cell phone, according to her contract.

Her $220,000 annual salary makes Bessie LeFra Young one of the highest-paid public school chiefs in the region.

The three-year contract, approved last month by the Camden school board, includes perks routinely offered to superintendents, including a cell phone and a monthly expense allowance.

The 17-page contract and an attached side agreement suggest a likely shake-up in Camden's central office after Young takes over a week from today, becoming only the second outsider to run South Jersey's largest public school district.

Her contract allows Young to reorganize the district and bring with her two administrators and her secretary from the Philadelphia school system, where she has been Central Region superintendent.

Reuben Mills and Andrea Kirwin "may apply immediately for two vacant Assistant Superintendent positions," according to the agreement. The salary range is between $135,000 and $145,000.

Mills is director of support services in Young's Central Region, with an annual $100,000 salary. Kirwin, principal at Sheridan West Academy, has a $112,000 salary. The Camden school board also agreed to hire Young's executive secretary, Maria Ramirez, at a salary between $75,000 and $80,000. Her Philadelphia district salary was $54,742.

"With regard to the other candidates and the job titles of the positions discussed, you can recommend to the Board of Education a reorganization of the administrative offices," according to Young's contract. The positions of deputy superintendent or chief academic officer could be created.

Young insisted on bringing her leadership team, board vice president Martha Wilson said. "She wasn't coming without them."

Wilson said she had concerns about the salaries and terms of the agreement, but reluctantly supported them. The agreement was approved at a meeting where the board also agreed to cut 190 positions because of a $9.5 million deficit in a $311 million annual budget.

"I would not have offered that high," Wilson said. "I hope that she and the team are able to live up to the expectations."

Young could not be reached for comment Friday.

Board president Sara Davis said Young, an educator for more than three decades, "brings a wealth of experience" to the nearly 16,000-student district.

"There's not a district in South Jersey that you can compare with Camden," Davis said. "We have been fair with the responsibility that this new superintendent is going to have."

Gov. Corzine, who has veto authority over the board under state oversight by the Camden Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Authority Act, is expected to approve the agreement, spokesman Brendan Gilfillan has said.

Corzine last year rejected a pact that would have paid Young's predecessor, Annette D. Knox, $208,000 a year. She could have received 10 percent of her $185,000 base salary as a bonus for meeting performance goals.

Knox resigned in June 2006 after the school board learned that she received $17,500 in bonuses without its approval or knowledge. The bonuses were based partly on rigged test scores now under investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.

Excluded from the agreement with Young are any annuities or performance-based pay increases, Davis said. She could get an annual raise based on her evaluation by the board. She also gets an additional annual cost of living increase.

Young, 57, of Williamstown, earned $133,900 as a regional superintendent in Philadelphia in the 2006-07 school year, according to records.

Last year, the average annual salary for superintendents nationally was $116,000, but nearly $185,000 for those working in larger districts, according to the American Association of School Administrators. In the region, the averages were $155,039 in Pennsylvania and $123,660 in New Jersey, according to data from education departments in both states.

The highest salary in the region this year went to Paul Vallas, the departing Philadelphia schools chief executive officer, whose salary was $250,000.


To read Young's contract, go to http://go.philly.com/bessieyoung.

Contact staff writer Melanie Burney at 856-779-3876 or mburney@phillynews.com.

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