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Sanders Approved as Cleveland Schools CEO

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 2:15 PM

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It's official: the Cleveland Municipal School District has a new CEO. The district's school board approved a contract for former Toledo Superintendent Eugene Sanders in a special meeting last night. While his salary will be more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, board members say the new CEO of Cleveland Schools will have to work hard and smart to meet all the challenges ahead. ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports.

Sanders faces the same problems in Cleveland that he did in Toledo: low test scores, low attendance, low graduation and a looming deficit.

But after six years under Sanders, the Toledo Public Schools have moved up two listings under Ohio’s school ranking system. The district is the only one in the state Ohio to have the distinction of “Continuous Improvement” two years in a row.

But the Cleveland school district is twice as big as Toledo’s, with upwards of 60,000 students, a vast majority of whom are low-income urban pupils. But that doesn’t worry School Board Chairman Larry Davis.

Larry Davis: We felt after interviewing him (that) he can adapt to any size district and the same (kind of) principles and work ethic that he displayed in Toledo, he’s going to do it here.

Sander’s salary will be $18,000 less than his predecessor Barbara Byrd Bennett earned, but still relatively lucrative for an education administrator. After seven years leading the Cleveland Schools, Bennett’s pay reached a final height of $278,000. Davis says the public’s sensitivity to salary issues was in the back of the Board’s mind as it negotiated with Sanders.

Larry Davis: I think we just reached a fair market value for Dr. Sander’s service. Respecting his track record in leading the Toledo district in to continuous improvement and also a sound fiscal position.

Davis says many school districts around the country are searching for new CEOs, so that gave Sanders a few more chips to bargain with. His salary will come with a package of fringe benefits, such as retirement contributions, moving expenses, a technically equipped home office, car allowance and cellular service. That brings Sanders entire compensation package to just below $350,000. But there’s one thing Davis says the Cleveland won’t be giving Sanders - the $50,000 bonuses his predecessor got.

Larry Davis: I think there’s a strong feeling that public employees are paid for doing a job and there should be no bonuses paid for doing what they’re supposed to do.

The Cleveland School Board is certain this investment in Sanders will pay off. Over his tenure in Toledo, test scores rose steadily, school attendance climbed to 93% and nearly three quarters of Toledo students reached graduation day.

James McLaughlin: So those are real assets that we certainly need here in the community and I think people should be enthusiastic about.

That’s James McLaughlin, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Cleveland State University. Sanders was applauded in Toledo for developing innovative ideas and delegating their implementation. And McLaughlin says Sanders can achieve that in Cleveland, too. And, he says the best ideas come from teachers and workers in the trenches.

James McLaughlin: I really feel all of people need to bring something to the table for him to work with and support… and this is where our new mayor can, I think, particularly help.

Mayor Jackson said last March it was Sanders solid track record in urban education that gained City Hall’s support.

The Cleveland Schools are facing a $100 million deficit in the coming years. So, voters can expect the new CEO to lobby them for more money in the future. Board President Larry Davis cautions though that the Cleveland School district should make gains in areas like student achievement before Sanders asks for a tax levy.

Larry Davis: And once you do that, I think your chances are much better for passing levies down the road. But right now today, we don’t have any plans for a levy.

Cleveland will get its first audience with the new CEO later today, when Mayor Frank Jackson and the School Board hold a press conference. On July 1st, Dr. Eugene Sanders is expected to report to work in Cleveland.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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