Waco Independent School District’s new superintendent will make $82,000 more than retiring Superintendent Bonny Cain did when she started six years ago, according to his contract, released publicly Monday afternoon.

Laredo ISD’s Superintendent Marcus Nelson is expected to replace Cain the first week of June, following graduation. He’ll have an annual base salary of $272,000, with several benefits, according to his contract. Cain announced her retirement in November.

Cain started with a base salary of $190,000, plus benefits. Waco ISD trustees signed Nelson’s five-year contract last Thursday after officially approving his hire during a school board meeting.

Nelson’s additional benefits include:

  • a Texas Retirement System contribution on behalf of the district
  • life insurance in the amount of $500,000
  • an automobile allowance of $500 per month en lieu of mileage expense reimbursement, gasoline, insurance or other charges associated with district travel
  • an annual tax-deferred annuity in addition to the salary of $20,000
  • reimbursement for out of town travel expenses, including lodging and meals
  • reimbursement for membership to professional associations and community and civic affairs
  • payment or reimbursement for annual or monthly internet expenses throughout the superintendent’s home
  • payment of wireless connectivity expenses, and a laptop computer, which Nelson can replace every two years under his contract, and a cellphone allowance of $50 a month
  • A discretionary fund of at least $20,000 to participate in community and civic affairs and organizations.
  • The district will also pay for the Nelson’s moving expenses in accordance to the best value determined by Nelson and will provide Nelson a maximum of 60 days of suitable lodging while he finds a place to live.

“If you look at the base salary in a vacuum, I agree it looks significant. It looks large,” Board President Pat Atkins said. “But with the work I’ve done on the Waco school board for the last 15 years and the work I’ve done on Prosper Waco, we know how much education is vital to this community and you can’t put a price on educating our kids.”

The difference in starting salaries is because of the different background and qualifications, and the school district is in a different place than it was six years ago, Atkins said.

Nelson comes with a track record of success in districts with similar demographics to Waco ISD, Atkins said. The Texas Association of School Boards named him the 2014 Superintendent of the Year. Compared to the more than 80 percent of Waco ISD students who are economically disadvantaged, 97 percent of Laredo ISD students are economically disadvantaged.

Nelson will also be coming from an urban district with 33 campuses and more than 25,000 students to one with 26 campuses and more than 15,000 students. His salary in Laredo ISD was $214,120, according to the Laredo Morning Times.

He is a San Antonio native who speaks Spanish. While in Laredo, he cut the district’s personnel costs by more than $2 million, and 43 percent of Laredo’s schools earned recognized or exemplary academic ratings in 2010, according to his biography. None of Laredo ISD’s campuses had improvement-required ratings for state academic standards this year, according to Texas Education Agency records. Waco ISD had seven campuses rate improvement required this year, one fewer than the year before.

The additional benefits aren’t an uncommon practice for school districts and Nelson’s salary is comparable to current superintendent contracts in districts of similar size across the state, according to Texas Education Agency salary records as of October 2016. In fact, at least 10 school districts of smaller size actually pay superintendents more than Waco ISD will be paying Nelson, TEA records show.

Those schools include Lovejoy ISD, a district of 4,046 students; La Porte ISD, with 7,000 students; Barbers Hill ISD, with 5,266 students; New Caney ISD with 14,677 students; Prosper ISD, with 9,998 students, Victoria ISD, with 14,378 students and Highland Park, Lake Travis, Eanes and Carroll ISDs, which all have an enrollment less than 10,000 students.

“The benefits pretty well mirror what he had in Laredo. That’s what we all agreed to in terms of the obviously significant increase in salary and the benefits he had in Laredo,” Atkins said. “Dr. Nelson was in a very comfortable situation in Laredo. He has a five-year contract and a record of success. He could have been comfortable staying down there, but he wants to come to Waco.”

Atkins said he generally believes Nelson will inspire the Waco community and school district.

“Superintendent salaries in terms of district enrollment are sort of all over the place,” Atkins said. “I think the bigger point is when you’re evaluating the superintendent’s job, you can’t look just at the number of students enrolled in the district. Each district is unique … This is going to be a very big job, and we believe he can really come in and be transformational to this community.”

The average superintendent salary for 2016-17 is $142,154, according to a recent survey by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Superintendent salaries for districts with fewer than 500 students averaged $94,920, and salaries in districts with more than 50,000 students averaged $308,814. Half of districts surveyed reported a salary of less than $123,015.

That same survey also found the average superintendent pay increase was 3.2 percent, up from last year’s average of 2.9 percent. And more than 60 percent of returning Texas superintendents received a base salary increase for the 2016-2017 school year, the survey showed.

“I agree with President Atkins that it’s really hard to place a value on strong leadership of our community’s public schools, and that value should be based on more than just enrollment,” Nelson said in a statement about his contract through the district. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to give Waco and the school district a good return on their investment.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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