Education is a curious industry. Almost every person capable of reading and digesting a publication has some level of experience with formalized education. Even if they attended school at home or privately, there was vertical organization of some manner. For this reason, almost everyone considers themselves at least a “Facebook-certified expert” in educational policy and therefore qualified to bombard anyone and everyone with policy and pay criticism irrelevant of their actual field of expertise, assuming one exists. As someone with a master’s degree in educational policy, a principal certification, and more than 10 years of classroom experience, I’m (sometimes regrettably) more qualified than most to make a value judgment on education. Hop on board.
When former Fort Worth ISD superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner announced his “intention” to retire — along with a gaggle of his peers in North Texas — the search for his successor drew attention. The new “soup” is Dr. Angelica Ramsey, who is moving east from the head position in Midland ISD. The capital of the Permian Basin represents a much smaller stakeholder pool than Cowtown, but the socioeconomic challenges are not dissimilar, though we have a larger percentage of poor kids. Ramsey was the lone finalist in the search, and she was once a student who needed economic assistance herself.
Ramsey has been working in Texas only one year and previously headed a small school system in California, where she grew up, for five years. She checks all the boxes to counter most bigots. She is a woman but also an Army veteran. She sits on an ivory throne of education and possesses an educational doctorate but spent six years finishing her undergraduate degree because she was working and caring for her terminally ill mother at the time. The remaining bogeywoman is her research — her dissertation is fairly heavy on Latina Critical Race Theory. *spooky booooo sound* Really?! OK, Boomers. Worrying about CRT is so 2021.
One of the real eye poppers for social media tax accountability consultants is Ramsey’s $330,000 annual salary. Most couldn’t fathom how a public servant could make that kind of dough, especially with weekends, holidays, and summers off. I’ll go ahead and say it. That’s a bargain for a great superintendent, which I hope Ramsey ends up being.
This was the same salary Scribner was making, and the school board voted to buy him into retirement to the tune of $573K. If you want to act pissy about someone who knows how to work their assess off making a good salary, be irate about someone being paid the same to leave the job two years early. To be fair to our wonderful school board, they’ve really reduced their “please stop working here” expenditures compared to Walter Dansby, who was paid almost $900K in 2014 to move on.
Fort Worth and Dallas both hired new superintendents this year, both of them women, at similar salaries, though Big D’s Stephanie Elizalde is making a little less than her predecessor. Comparatively, Duncanville ISD superintendent Dr. Marc Smith is paid more than $400K per year in a district that enrolls a sixth of Fort Worth’s student population. Dr. Lane Ledbetter of Carroll ISD in Southlake is another small district superintendent making more — though, to be fair, a job requiring the juggling of parent lawsuits while ensuring PTA meetings don’t conflict with Klan rallies deserves special consideration for its difficulty. Based on ’21-’22 school year data, FWISD was the 30th best-paying superintendent job in Texas, despite being the sixth largest via student enrollment.
While it might be easy to misconstrue, I’m not suggesting that any of the aforementioned professional education leaders are overpaid. I’m arguing the opposite. Superintendent is not a job any non-masochist would want. There are no holidays for these leaders, who are equal parts teacher, administrator, and elected official. Most of us are able to leave our professions behind, if only for a moment, when we go about our civilian lives. Superintendents have nowhere to hide because they are essentially accountable to every person who lives within the boundaries of their districts and don’t take extended vacations. Most campus-level administrators (principals, counselors, others) do more work when school is out of session because that’s when the real planning can occur. The same is true for district-level leaders.
The superintendent is also accountable to the school trustees, who are actually elected and can be as wackadoodle as the cycle and electorate that christen them. No one is named honcho of a major school district by accident, and educators can work their entire careers with the ambition of becoming an assistant principal and never quite get there, so don’t be so naive as to think search committees just decided on someone who applied via LinkedIn.
I don’t know definitively that Ramsey will be the right fit for Fort Worth, but everyone should delay judgment and embrace her to aid success for students. There’s no telling what the educational-accountability metrics will say after this year — and their validity is another discussion entirely — but she has a record of earning her salary. Midland was ready to increase her pay of $35K to $310K based on one year’s improvements in the district. There will be plenty to talk about over the coming years as it relates to the evolution or possible lack thereof in our local school district, but the superintendent being paid too much definitely shouldn’t be one of them.
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Columns will be gently edited for factuality, clarity, and concision.