School board’s secretive salary increases for administrator raise serious questions

The continuing controversy over what Floyd County School Superintendent Terry Arbogast actually earns showcases the secretive — and questionable — way the county school board operates and the backroom, good old boy deals that has nearly doubled the school chief’s salary since 1993.

While Arbogast’s $118,000 annual salary is slightly higher than the national average for school superintendent in similar districts, another $50,000 in benefits — including an $18,000 a year car allowance and retirement annuity payments — is way out of line and brings his actual yearly compensation to $168,000 a year.

The secretive way the school board approved raises for the superintendent — through phone calls, emails and closed-door sessions without ever reflecting his true salary in the budgets submitted for approval by the county board of supervisors — raises serious questions.

Board chairman Doug Phillips last week admitted to me that whenever Arbgogast received a job offer from another school district or threatened to leave his job, the board got together by phone and agreed — informally — to kick his salary up another $10,000 or $20,000 without any changes to his contract.

The money came from other line items in the school budget — usually funds left over from teacher vacancies.

Meanwhile, teachers in the school system saw their salaries frozen and the public record — the school system’s published budget — continued to list the superintendent’s salary as $98,000 a year.

This budgetary slight-of-hand prompted the supervisors last week to take more control over the school system’s budget — voting 3-2 to assume “category control,” including oversight of the administrative budget.

The action is a victory for Courthouse Supervisor Case Clinger who began questioning the school system’s budgeting process and the actual cost of paying the superintendent last year.

“Something’s not right here,” he said.

He was right.  The school board acted in a questionable way, approving salary increases without any public record of its actions and allowing the superintendent to cherry pick other school system accounts to pay for the raises.

Arbogast now admits the practice must be “cleaned up.”  Over breakfast a couple of weeks ago, he told me he should have been more open about how much he was paid and how the process worked.  At the time the school system increased his base pay from $98,000 to $118,000 a year, Arbogast elected to keep the salary line item at the lower amount, saying he did not want to take heat from teachers who did not get a raise.

Phillips said the school board depended on the superintendent to tell them whether or not the way they approved and funded the raises were legal.  The school board chairman is a long-time politico who served on the county board of supervisors before moving over to the school board and should know better.

I had the details on this situation two weeks ago but foolishly sat on it and the Roanoke Times scooped me on it on Sunday. My bad

The situation also exemplifies how government — in general — is run in Floyd County. Prying salaries out of government bodies — including the board of supervisors — is a difficult process even though the salaries of public officials is supposed to be public record.

The school system invited trouble when it required members of the board of supervisors — the entity that oversees the school budget — to file formal “freedom of information” requests under Virginia law to obtain salary information on the superintendent.

That kind of behavior has no place in a society where government is supposed to be open.

The superintendent is retiring by the end of this year and his era may be remembered more for the secretive controversial handling of his salary than anything he accomplished in a school system that has a good reputation in educational circles.

As for the publicly-elected school board, judgment day will come at the polling booth. That’s when those running for re-election will have to answer for their actions.

13 thoughts on “School board’s secretive salary increases for administrator raise serious questions”

  1. I find this whole mess appalling. The actions that Dr. Arbogast deliberately took to hide information is fraud. Do our five school board members believe that if any of them went to their respective employers and said “I’ve been offered another job” or “I’m thinking of moving out of the area” – they would get a 20% or more salary raise? Doubtful. Did anyone ever confirm that Dr. Arbogast had actually been offered another job or was actively looking to relocate? I have a feeling that they just blindly trusted him – and look where that got them. It is disappointing that a professional businessman, Doug Phillips, and the others so freely & seemingly without question kept handing more money to the superintendent. If their personal finances were handled the way they have handled the schools resources, they would be broke.

  2. Here’s one big question: Why? Are the school board members getting some sort of benefit for being so secretive about the superintendent’s salary and benefits?

    • Doug reported,

      “Arbogast now admits the practice must be “cleaned up.” Over breakfast a couple of weeks ago, he told me he should have been more open about how much he was paid and how the process worked. At the time the school system increased his base pay from $98,000 to $118,000 a year, Arbogast elected to keep the salary line item at the lower amount, saying he did not want to take heat from teachers who did not get a raise.”

      It is then reported that ‘the other guys’ left the legality of such actions in the hands of the Superintendent to discover. Did that conversation happen? Where is the document, or reference to proceedure of law, that convinced the Board it was OK?

      It seems obvious nobody wanted to ruffle the feathers of the little people so they rolled the dice. The money is gone, the rest is due in the future. Maybe you could meet Lance behind a dumpster someplace to explain how common and easy this stuff is to pull off.

  3. Floyd County teachers, parents and taxpayers should all be grateful to Case for being willing to take the heat and dig deep enough to uncover this. I would suggest that moving forward the voters focus on electing candidates who are also willing to keep a close eye on all of the county’s finances. Floyd County isn’t rich enough to allow wasteful spending. We need every dollar available making an impact on things like classroom size and teacher pay.

    • By not appopriating additional funding for education (which is needed because federal stimulus dollars are gone) the county will see a detrimental impact with regards to the children (the future leaders of Floyd) within the local schools. Classroom size will increase significantly. Many teachers may lose their jobs which in turn will decrease the amount of revenue the county receives. Unemployment will rise. And teacher pay? Really? Salaries have been frozen at 2008-2009 levels.

  4. From Roanoke.com: “I’m just trying a little bit at a time to get the trust back from the community for me and for the school board,” an upset Arbogast told a reporter after Thursday’s meeting. “You’ve turned my staff against me. You’ve got the community upset with me.”

    Wait…the reporter has turned staff and community against him? Seriously? Let’s compare his current salary and all those little benefits to a teacher’s salary who has been working for the same amount of time. Then tell me why the teachers are upset. Figure out the percentage of his beginning salary to his current and tell me if the teachers have received the same percentage increase.

    It’s time to clean house, Floyd. There’s too much dirt hiding in the corners.

  5. The Roanoke Times just reported on this afternoon’s School Board meeting and it is absolutely nauseating how neither Arbogast nor the School Board are taking ANY responsibility for their actions.
    http://www.roanoke.com/news/breaking/wb/285583
    Arbogast should not be allowed to remain in his position until December. He and the School Board have done enough pillaging of county funds. The lack of ethics of this group sends a really good message to the students they purport to support.

  6. I have said a few times now , other then Case Clinger, there needs to be a good ole fashion house cleaning of the good ole boys club, I hope this will be remembered.

    My Brother in Law is getting a new Principal job in Chicago and I do know that his salary will be published on the Internet.

  7. This blatant betrayal of the public trust needs to be rectified ASAP. The School Board and certainly Terry Arbogast no longer have ANY credibility. I certainly do not trust the current School Board to make an informed and intelligent decision regarding a new superintendent. And to think that the School Board, with straight faces, actually told the teachers that there was no money for raises while they were lining Arbogast’s pocket year after year is reprehensible. The total arrogance of the players smells the worst. And blaming the media? If they thought that what they were doing was right, why all the secrecy?
    I wholeheartedly agree with you, Bob. Here’s hoping for an end to the good ole boys club BEFORE Floyd County makes the news again for all the wrong reasons.

    • Concerning the article (http://www.roanoke.com/news/breaking/wb/285583 concerning the Thursday afternoon’s meeting), it mentions that Linda King was not present. To her defense, she works as a principal for Carroll County Schools, which started SOL testing this week. Also, before one throws out everybody, one should consider that King was just elected this past November and was just seated in January 2011, just four months ago. I don’t have all the details or timing on this, but thought I would mention these things in her defense.

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