School officials' travel perks span the spectrum
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Sunday, July 29, 2012
7/29/12 at 7:20 AM
Read the superintendent salary listing from the state Department of Education.
A review of auto allowances and use of district-owned vehicles for Tulsa-area school administrators shows that they can be expensive, taxpayer-funded perks in some cases.
A Tulsa World examination of public records requested under the Oklahoma Open Records Act found only two superintendents with no vehicle or travel allowance, while on the other end of the spectrum, four Union Public Schools administrators get full use of district-owned Acura vehicles as part of their benefits package.
The newspaper surveyed Tulsa County school districts because most superintendents did not report auto allowances as part of their compensation packages to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Even so, the average total compensation reported to the state among Tulsa County school district superintendents for 2011-12 was $155,066.
Union Associate Superintendent Kirt Hartzler and Chief Financial Officer Debra Jacoby received new 2012 Acura MDX model SUVs in January, at a cost each of just over $52,000 and nearly $30,000 respectively, records show. Superintendent Cathy Burden drives a 2010 Acura RL sedan purchased by the district for $45,000, while Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Kathy Dodd drives a 2007 Acura MDX bought for just over $33,000, according to district records.
Ed Payton, immediate past president of the Union school board, explained that the board voted to purchase Acuras rather than less expensive vehicles as a way to attract and retain the best leaders.
"We believe our approach is working. Union school administrators, teachers and support staff are highly respected and recruited throughout the region," Payton said.
These benefits are provided to the top tier of district administrators on the condition that they will be "on the clock around the clock," according to Burden's employment contract.
Union is one of the 10 largest school districts in the state.
"Regular business hours for a Union administrator start very early in the morning and often go until late at night, and on weekends," Payton said.
In addition, nine other Union employees have the use of a fleet vehicle, including the district's child nutrition director and athletic director who drive a 2006 $22,000 Chevrolet Trailblazer and a 2011 $32,500 Chevrolet Tahoe, respectively, records show.
Payton said that simply paying mileage for administrators to drive their own cars wouldn't be as cost effective because of the amount of travel required for each administrator. The current rate of mileage reimbursement allowed by the Internal Revenue Service is 55 1/2 cents per mile, meaning a trip to the state capital would cost the district nearly $170 in reimbursement.
"So the question from the Union Board of Education's perspective is, have we put in place the proper working environment and is the overall compensation package attractive enough to recruit and retain the highest quality administrators in a cost efficient manner," Payton said. "By purchasing a vehicle, rather than providing sufficient funds to the administrator to do so, the board achieves its goal in the most cost-efficient way possible."
Skiatook Superintendent Rick Thomas is at the opposite end of the spectrum. His contract includes no car allowance and he uses his personal vehicle and does not submit any mileage claims.
Just like a teacher or coach, he can check out a school-owned vehicle for out-of-town school business, such as attending a meeting or training session.
Skiatook pays out more than $16,000 in allowances to principals and a few district administrators for travel within 50 miles of the school district. The allowances range from $1,000-$3,500, with the high school principal receiving the highest amount.
"My preference was to have the amount as part of my salary. That was the same contract I had at Oologah and chose to continue with not having a car allowance. The other administrators had that as part of their contracts before I came to Skiatook, so I am not sure how that came about," Thomas said.
He said those eight employees receive their allowances on an annual basis, and they are "figured in with their base salary so they are subject to withholdings (state, federal and teacher retirement) and reported as salary on W-2 forms."
No administrators in Bixby Public Schools get a district-owned or leased vehicle, nor do they get car allowances, Superintendent Kyle Wood said.
Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall drives a district-owned 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe, which was purchased for nearly $42,000. Similarly, Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman is the lone administrator in the district provided a vehicle. He drives a 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe purchased for $19,511 with a trade-in of his previous district vehicle, a 2007 Tahoe.
The three administrators in Owasso who are on call at all times drive district-owned vehicles. Superintendent Clark Ogilvie drives a 2011 Chevrolet Equinox, which cost $22,800, while two others - the operations and transportation directors - drive 2010 Ford and 2011 Chevy pickups, which cost an estimated $25,000 to $30,000 each.
In Sand Springs, Superintendent Lloyd Snow drives a district-owned 2008 Chevy Impala purchased for $18,380. Two other administrators - the maintenance and technology directors - drive school vehicles.
One, a 2004 Chevy Silverado 2500, was purchased so long ago, officials were unable to locate records with its purchase price, and the other, a 2009 GMC Savanna cargo van, was paid for by the district's insurance company, according to Gary Watts, chief financial officer at Sand Springs.
Catoosa Superintendent Rick Kibbe drives his personal vehicle, but in 1997-98, the school board established a $500-a-month car allowance to be included in the superintendent's contract, for an annual total of $6,000. Similarly, Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr's contract calls for him to receive a $4,200 car allowance broken up into 12 monthly installments.
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard receives a monthly allowance of $1,435 for car, cell phone and life insurance costs. Although there was no breakdown of those expenses available, his predecessor, Michael Zolkoski, received a $1,000 per month allowance for auto only.
Ballard noted that administrators' auto allowances are intended to cover costs for not only the vehicle, but also car insurance, tag and gas for in-town mileage. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.
"I have had district vehicles (in past jobs). I've seen cases in other districts where I felt it got too complicated," he said. "I wanted to have separation on who owned the vehicle. I think it makes it cleaner and limits criticism of how you're using the car."
Susan Weatherman, business manager at Sperry Public Schools, said Superintendent Brian Beagles drives his own vehicle to and from work, but uses one of the district's two large SUVs for out-of-town travel for business purposes. She said the same two vehicles, which she said she thought were a Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition, are available for check-out for transporting students to tennis matches and other small-group trips.
According to a copy of Beagles' employment contract, he is also paid an annual auto allowance of $9,000.
When the Tulsa World requested Sperry's policy on district vehicle use and contracts for administrators with car privileges or allowances, Beagles initially asked for the Tulsa World to be more specific in its records request and for payment of estimated copy and search fees.
Under state law, the media are exempt from search fees.
Original Print Headline: School-provided vehicles can be expensive perk
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Kim Archer 918-581-8315