An open letter to Peach County school personnel

When this budget crisis began, right after I came to the district, I predicted that as it became worse, the topic of my salary and whether or not I “make too much money” would become a popular topic of conversation. As you know, I have been in school administration a very long time, and I have seen this happen in other school districts in other states. Since I knew this was coming, I spent some time nearly a year and a half ago deciding how I would respond. Because I am first and foremost a teacher, I decided that I would give people an education about school superintendent’s duties and responsibilities along with the information they were seeking. So, here goes. My salary is as follows:

n $145,000 — base salary

n $14,012 — expenses and auto allowance

n $10,000 — 403(b) retirement savings plan

n $21,830 — retirement and insurance

n Total: $190,842

My job as superintendent is equivalent to being the CEO of a medium-sized company (we have 600-plus employees and responsibility for 4,000-plus students) with one difference. We aren’t producing inanimate objects; we are working with other human beings to produce successful, productive citizens from a fluid raw material — children — who over the course of the production effort move from squirming, energetic, mostly happy little children to squirming, energetic, often confused and sometimes emotionally wrecked pre-teens to energetic, vacillating, curious, sometimes rebellious, uncertain but still struggling for their own independence teenagers.

The superintendent in all this process has to know about teaching and learning, budgeting, finance, special education, personnel, school district policy, school law, facilities, maintenance, custodial services, taxes, political elections, technology, interpersonal relationships, psychology, counseling, worker’s compensation, unemployment, athletics, extracurricular activities, transportation, energy conservation, parenting, theology, managing school boards, risk management, and also from time to time how to change a burned out ballast, how to unstop a stopped up commode, and how to remove a family of skunks from under a portable building. (Yes, this really has happened to me in my career.)

Being the superintendent of a school district is sort of like living at Wal-Mart. People just assume you are open 24/7 and think nothing of banging on your door on a Saturday morning when you are still in your jammies, cornering you at church, sitting down with you in a restaurant, and, yes, even pouring out their problems with the school system to you while you are in a hospital bed and still on pain medication. (I will admit I don’t actually remember much of that conversation.)

In addition to all of that, anyone can call the media and tell them anything about you or the school district, and the media “springs” into action. It can be something as ludicrous as you are keeping an alien in your office restroom to someone spotted you with a school district stapler in your car and immediately, whether the report is true or not, a school superintendent is the star of the 5 p.m. news. (Of course, the macon.comers don’t get started until the next morning and there is absolutely no end to where those poor people, who evidently live their entire lives virtually, can take it. And those are just the benefits of being a superintendent.

The on-the-job hazards are high. They include being run over by an irate person who doesn’t want to wait in line to pick up his child, heart attack, stroke, verbal thrashing (you would absolutely be amazed at the words some people will put into their mouths), neck strain from working on the latest paperwork the Georgia Department of Education is demanding while also talking on the telephone as at least five people wait at your door.

Finally, the shelf life of superintendents isn’t very long. Nationally, most superintendents make it an average of three years before they have a heart attack, some crazy person goes postal and shoots them on the job or they have a nervous breakdown. Peach County has had seven superintendents counting the two interims over the last 10 years, which means the average tenure for superintendents here is one year and four months. No wonder we are all sometimes confused.

All that said, I still love the kids and love this job. I humbly invite anyone who cares to do so to come follow me around for a week (remember that’s 24/7.

In the final analysis a superintendent really only has two choices, we can either laugh or cry about the situations we confront each day. I choose to laugh.

Susan Clark is the Peach County school superintendent.