$uper $alary:
Roper to be city's top paid public servant

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Schools has a new superintendent.
   Dr. David Roper is expected to officially take office next month after the Elizabethton Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve his contract last Thursday night. The contract's salary and benefits total of $96,000 makes Roper the highest paid public official in Elizabethton or Carter County -- a fact that has raised hackles among some school system insiders who believe Roper's package is even higher.
   Roper's contract calls for a base salary of $83,000 plus an additional $13,000 in insurance and annuity benefits. By comparison, Elizabethton's top public official, City Manager Charles Stahl, receives a base salary of $65,478 with the total compensation of $68,478, according to city finance records.
   A possible thorn in the side of some contract critics revolves around the ECS fiscal year 2004 budget. The Board of Education voted to include a 1.5 percent increase in salary and step pay increase for teachers and paraprofessional system employees after the Elizabethton Education Association had submitted a request for a 5 percent pay raise for the system's teachers and paraprofessional employees.
   In comparison with two other school systems in the Tri-Cities, advanced degrees go a long way in professional advancement and salary.
   Director of Bristol Tennessee City Schools (BTCS), Dr. Steven Dixon, earns a base salary of $94,500 and total compensation of $112,000, according to that system's office of finance. Dixon has been the system's director since 1995 and began his career in the Bristol system in 1973. His administration oversees approximately 3,000 students attending Tennessee High School, Vance Middle School, and six elementary schools.
   Rebecca Adams, director of finance with BTCS, said Dixon's compensation package includes an annuity of $9,500, a car allowance $5,400 and health insurance including family coverage of $2,389. He can receive an additional $1,000 for attending professional development training sessions. The state reimburses the system for professional development sessions, Adams said.
   Carter County Schools Superintendent Dallas Williams receives a base salary of $79,443 plus $6,000 in career ladder supplement. Williams oversees 6,000 students and more than 400 employees. Appointed superintendent July 1, 2001, Williams oversees 15 schools plus the county's Lift Academy and Adult High School.
   Williams receives the same health insurance package as all other county employees and access to a county vehicle but no car allowance per se, according to the county school finance department. "On health insurance and retirement he is treated like all other professional employees," said Jerome Kitchens, county schools finance director.
   Of course, a higher degree almost always equates more money for most jobs. Williams has a bachelor's degree while both Roper and Dixon hold doctorate degrees in Education.
   If teachers receive a pay raise through the system, Dixon receives a comparable increase. When teachers do not receive a raise, neither does he. Adams said Bristol professionals received a mid-year increase during the 2003 fiscal year. "When we do have changes in the salary schedule, they look at types of increases the teachers receive," said Adams.
   In addition to the contract, the superintendent is a school system employee. That entitles him or her to retirement benefits through the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, the state's retirement system for public employees.
   Cynthia Roberts, director of finance for ECS, said Friday that payments the system was required to make under federal law did not qualify as "fringe benefits" over and above the superintendent's salary.
   School systems -- like public and private employers -- are required to pay federal taxes into social security and Medicare for each employee including the superintendent.
   All three school systems pay 3.39 percent of the superintendent's salary into the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. TCRS calculates each public entity's payout rate every two years after analyzing actuarial tables of how investment funds have performed, Adams said. She added that number would increase to 5.5 percent next year.
   Employees are required to pay 5 percent of their salary into TCRS. That calculates to an additional $2,813 paid into Roper's TCRS account by the school system. That also calculates to $4,150 of Roper's end of his salary to his TCRS contribution.
   Adams said Bristol teachers received step pay increases on July 1, but teachers' salary schedules did not increase for fiscal year 2004.
   Roberts said each system employee has to pay 5 percent of his or her salary into their retirement fund under TCRS. "That is considered a fringe benefit," she said. However, Roberts said no directors during her time in the system had received compensatory pay above the terms of their contract since she had been finance director for ECS.
   "In the last seven years, the directors have been paid by the terms of the contract," said Roberts. "There have been no additional compensation; they are paid by the terms of that contract.
   "We have made sure everything is done properly," she said.