Proposed changes to SCS superintendent's contract create controversy

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A spokesperson for Shelby County Schools said Friday if there is a city and county school merger, the system hopes its current superintendent, John Aitken, will stay on.

But some county school board commissioners say an effort to keep him on board could result in hundreds of thousands of wasted taxpayer dollars.  
Aitken is under contract as Shelby County Schools superintendent until 2013, and Shelby County Schools board commissioner Mike Wissman hopes he'll stick around longer.

"As Shelby County schools is concerned, we're happy with Mr. Aitken," Wissman said.

Wissman has proposed extending Aitken's contract until 2015 to ensure stability in the event of a city and county school merger.  

"What this contract will do will provide that a superintendent is in place when that transition team occurs, you know, through the two and a half years through the Norris bill," Wissman said.

Aitken's current contract includes a $190,000 per year salary and a 5 percent annual increase.  It also includes a clause that says the county would have to pay him one year's salary if he's forced out by a state education planning commission.   

Wissman is proposing extending that buy-out to two years, which would cost nearly $400,000.

County board commissioner Diane George wonders why the district would risk the added expense.

"Everything is so unknown right now, and we're spending money, and I think good business leaders would look at this and say, 'Why are spending money when we know the outcome of anything?'" she said.

Wissman argues it could ultimately save county taxpayers money if the MCS charter surrender is approved by city voters, by locking Aitken into one of the lowest superintendent salaries in the state. And if the county has to hire a new superintendent, candidates will ask for a much higher salary to run the largest school district in the state.  

"As much turmoil as we've got going on right now, I don't think either system could afford that," he said.

The Shelby County Schools board is expected to vote on extending Aitken's contract at their meeting next Thursday.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.