KPC News

This editorial was originally published Sunday on KPC News’s website.

We have followed the saga between the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County Board of Trustees and its now soon-to-be-former Superintendent Brent Wilson.

Wilson will be leaving MSD and possibly the community on June 30 when his contract expires. After a bitter lawsuit with the board, he accepted an approximately $900,000 settlement to leave. (Some board members say Wilson is “only” leaving with $200,000, that he would have gotten the rest of the money at the end of his employment anyway.)

Assuming they move from the community, Wilson, who was respected by many and perhaps even adored by some of those who worked for him, will be gone, along with his wife, Tammy, a third-grade teacher at Hendry Park Elementary School.

At issue with Wilson, hired in 2006, was not the way he managed and led the district. It was his contract — with an automatic renewal provision — that some board members disliked. The self-renewing contract would have kept him in his position until retirement. When the board removed that provision in 2016, the path toward this lawsuit was paved.

We would like to note that this is not out of the ordinary. In our research, we have found at least one similar contract in northeast Indiana.

Some board members also felt Wilson was overpaid. His base salary was $149,480. For comparison, East Noble’s base salary for its current superintendent is $135,000. At Smith-Green, the salary in the contract signed in 2018 was $91,000. At DeKalb Central United, the base salary is $116,155.

Some board members quietly campaigned on a platform of either reducing Wilson’s pay or eliminating the automatic rollover provision. (Some board members were not so silent about their desire to cut benefits of all administrators and did just that, only to reverse themselves.)

When Wilson was hired in 2006, the board based its employment offer on the salary of another superintendent in Indiana at a similarly sized school district who had just been hired. The offer was much higher than he was expecting, so Wilson countered with a proposed salary that was similar to the previous superintendent, plus annuities to make up the difference to reach the proposed salary. The optics were much better than a high salary on its own.

In addition to their base pay, superintendents receive such benefits as complete insurance coverage, or in one case, insurance for $1. Most receive vehicle allowances, cell phone reimbursements, annuities or other retirement packages and an account with the teachers retirement fund. When added up, it can be a significant sum.

In northeast Indiana, outside of Fort Wayne, superintendent pay doesn’t come close to that paid in central Indiana, where the base salaries can be in the $200,000 range. With all of the perks, Wilson’s entire package is more than $200,000 a year, but again, not his salary.

Over the years, some people in the MSD school district have equated the value of the entire package to Wilson’s salary, which in some ways is accurate and in others is not.

Board member emails obtained by MSD administration show a certain faction of the board favored cutting Wilson’s package and, perhaps, getting rid of him all together. These emails also show a predisposition of some board members to willingly flaunt and violate Indiana’s Open Door Law by coming to consensus and making decisions outside of public meetings. One board member even offered to host meetings of three members at a time in order to settle issues without having a full quorum of the board. From what this email implied, the board member wanted to hold what is called a serial meeting, which is illegal under Indiana law.

Anecdotally, we have come to the conclusion that the community is outraged by this whole affair. Yes, some people wanted to see Wilson go, but most did not, from what we have been able to surmise. Specifically, Wilson had overwhelming support from the teachers, staff and administration. Developing that chemistry is what makes a school system a living thing that functions for the collective good of the community.