Meet Dr. Casey Wardynski: The $175,000 Man

Tonight, by a unanimous vote, the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education approved a three year, $175,000 contract (Wardynski Contract 1.pdf) for Dr. Casey Wardynski as the new superintendent of Huntsville City Schools. This makes Dr. Wardynski the eighth highest paid superintendent in the state according to 2010 numbers. (We missed Birmingham City in seventh place by one hundred dollars.)

This is obscene.

Dr. Wardynski, in a demonstration of the leadership skills that he is reputed to hold, should reject this contract and ask the board to reduce this salary package to at most $140,000 for as long as teacher’s salaries remain frozen. Doing so will give him the moral authority to continue to ask the rest of the system to accept the cuts that he and the board are planning to implement over the coming year. It will also give him the opportunity to ask that the highest paid school board in the state accept a reduction in their salary as well.

As a retired soldier, Dr. Wardynski is surely aware that his troops will obey his orders because of his rank and title. I have no doubt that the teachers, aides and staff will offer Dr. Wardynski’s title the same respect.

However, as we are facing some “really challenging issues,” meeting these issues will require far more than simply following orders. Dr. Wardynski will need for this system to be willing to follow him through hell and back for the next few years. He will need the dedication of everyone he is leading, and that kind of dedication cannot be given to a title alone. It must be earned.

By way of illustration, the troops respect the general who eats MREs with the troops on the battlefield. For that general, they will go through hell and back not because they are ordered to, but because they want to.

This contract takes Dr. Wardynski off the battlefield and into an air-conditioned dining room eating a catered, seven course meal before he even arrives in the city.

I am fully award that we have, as I was told recently by Dr. Robinson as she was defending Wardynski’s salary, some “really challenging issues facing us.” But Dr. Wardynski is not the only one facing these issues in our system.

I dare say that the special education teacher who is being asked to double her class size while reducing her aides by half will also face some really challenging issues. The Kindergarten teacher who has the responsibility of finding ways of educating more students with no additional resources is facing some really challenging issues. The principals, the secretaries, the cafeteria and janitorial staff will all face some really challenging issues over the next three years. In addition, the parents who are asked to sacrifice more time, more money, more effort to ensure that their kids are given a fair chance to succeed in a system with extremely limited resources will also face these challenging issues.

In short, we are in this mess together. If we are to successfully work our way out of it, we have to all work together. Dr. Wardynski’s salary communicates not leadership and a willingness to work, but elitism. And frankly the board and Dr. Wardynski should already know this.

Dr. Robinson also shared with me that no one would come to our system without a “substantial incentive” implying that without receiving $175,000 we could not get anyone to serve as superintendent. This is just wrong.

No one who cares about education goes into education because of a “substantial [financial] incentive.” True teachers and educational leaders go into education because they seek the incentive of making our world a better place.

If we believe that paying our starting teachers the state minimum (following Dr. Robinson’s motion on April 21, 2011) will still allow our system to attract good teachers, then why would the superintendent’s position and salary be any different?

As the leader of our system, particularly in these trying times, Dr. Wardynski should model a willingness to share burdens across the entire system, but his salary package spits in the face of working together. It instead tells every principal, teacher, aide, staff, parent and child that we are expected to bear the burden while Dr. Wardynski is not. It creates a system where the leadership is completely disconnected from the people they are leading. That is exactly the type of leadership we’ve had for the previous ten years that has led us to this precipice.

If Dr. Wardynski believes in education, if he believes we should all work together to make this system the best in the nation in five years, then he should voluntarily accept a lower salary (which would still represent a raise over his current salary) for the same time frame that teacher’s salaries remain frozen at current levels. Doing this will prove to the city that his reputation for leadership is well earned.

Otherwise we’re in for three more years of discovering that The Who were right: the new boss is the same as the old.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


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