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(Editor’s note: This article was initially published at 1 p.m. on Jan. 31. It was updated at 2 p.m. to include new information from Burke County.)

Salaries for top elected and appointed school officials across Western North Carolina vary widely between jurisdictions, Carolina Public Press has found in conducting a survey in January of superintendent and school board member pay for the state’s 19 westernmost counties.

An elected board of education governs each school system in Western North Carolina, hiring a superintendent who handles administrative duties. Each local school board member receives a salary, typically set by the board itself, subject to approval from the appropriate county board of commissioners.

The school board sets the superintendent’s salary, which includes a portion paid by both the state and the local system. Asheville is the only municipality in WNC that has its own school system.

According to state Department of Public Instruction data, Buncombe County Schools has the highest average daily membership numbers in the region, and the 13th highest in the state, with around 24,200 students. Wake County Schools is the largest system in the state, with nearly 160,000 students.

Buncombe County’s Tony Baldwin is the highest-paid superintendent in the region, and receives an annual salary of $208,716. Buncombe County associate superintendent Susanne Swanger is paid $134,600 per year and assistant superintendent Joseph Hough receives $91,200 per year.

Henderson County Schools is the next-largest system in the region, with around 13,400 students. However, the district pays Superintendent Hardy Caldwell $132,000 per year, a salary comparable to Jackson County’s Michael Murray, who makes $131,000 per year while overseeing a system of 3,700 students.

Burke County, with the third-largest student body in the region at 12,200, has the the second-highest compensation level for its superintendent, Larry Putnam, who receives $199,052 per year.

Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Janet Mason is the third-highest paid administrator in the region with an annual salary of $179,262. The Rutherford County school system has approximately 8,000 students.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene is the lowest paid top administrator in the region, at $95,000 per year, making him the only superintendent in the region making less than six figures.

While superintendent salaries run from a low of $95,000 to a high of $208,700, school board pay remains more consistent from district to district with just a few thousand dollars of difference. However, the percentages show this is also a substantial fluctuation. The top superintendent in WNC makes 119 percent more than what the lowest-paid superintendent makes. But the top non-chair school board members make 250 percent more than the lowest-paid board members in the region.

Burke County Board of Education chair Randy Burns is the highest paid in Western North Carolina at $7,500. His fellow board members are the highest-paid non-chairs in the region at $6,300.

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Carolina Public Press submitted a public records request for salary information for superintendents, assistant superintendents and school board members to each of the counties in WNC, and the City of Asheville, by email on Jan. 3. Salary information for school system employees, like other public employees, is part of the public record and is available to anyone under North Carolina.

Macon County, McDowell County and Polk County provided the documents requested by CPP request on the day the records request was submitted. Mitchell County, Watauga County, Yancey County and Transylvania County each filled the request in less than two days. Other counties responded over time.

Burke County was the last to fulfill the records request, responding following initial publication of this article, only after repeated inquiries to the system’s public information officer. Burke County Schools spokeswoman Cheryl Shuffler told CPP on Jan. 24 that the request had been submitted to finance director Keith Lawson and human resources director Sharon Colaw.

After the district hadn’t provided the records as of Tuesday morning, CPP sent a followup email at 9:40 a.m. Jan. 31 to the system’s superintendent, finance officer and human resources director. Burke County then provided the documents within hours after that final email to administrators.

No explanation for the delay was provided. However, Burke County school board members are the most highly compensated in Western North Carolina.

Pay level by WNC school district

City of Asheville

Superintendent Pamela Baldwin: $141,617.28
Assistant Superintendent Terrence McAllister: $107,355.72
Board of Education chairman: $4,200
Board of Education members: $3,000

Avery County

Superintendent David Burleson: $154,284 per year
Board of Education chairman: $4,800
Board of Education members: $3,600

Buncombe County

Superintendent Tony Baldwin: $208,716.23
Associate Superintendent Susanne Swanger: $134,617.89
Assistant Superintendent Joseph Hough: $91,243.43
Board of Education chairman: $4,200
Board of Education vice chairman and members: $3,000

Burke County

Superintendent Larry Putnam: $199,052
Assistant Superintendent David Fonseca: $99,071
Board of Education chair: $7,500
Board of Education members: $6,300

Cherokee County

Superintendent Jeana Conley: $111,300
Assistant Superintendent John Higdon: $82,824
Assistant Superintendent Kim Gibson: $78,360
Board of Education chairman: $2,800
Board of Education members: $2,400

Clay County

Superintendent Mark Leek: $129,150 per year
Board of Education chairman: $5,000
Board of Education members: $4,000

Graham County

Superintendent Angela Knight: $111,057
Assistant superintendent Rex Smith: $75,444
Board of Education chairman: $4,200
Board of Education members: $3,000

Haywood County

Superintendent Ann Garrett: $140,863.18
Associate Superintendent William Nolte: $107,852.97
Board of Education chairman: $3,600
Board of Education members: $3,000

Henderson County

Superintendent Hardy Caldwell: $132,096
Assistant Superintendent Kathy Revis: $122,232
Associate Superintendent John Bryant: $93,132
Board of Education chairman: $4,500
Board of Education members: $3,600

Jackson County

Superintendent Michael Murray: $131,461.56 per year
Associate superintendent Kim Elliott: $98,257,20
Board of Education chairman: $4,200
Board of Education members: $3,000

Macon County

Superintendent Chris Baldwin: $121,218.72
Board of Education chairman: $3,000
Board of Education members: $2,400

Madison County

Superintendent Todd Holden: $126,888
Board of Education chairman: $4,650
Board of Education members: $3,900

McDowell County

Superintendent Mark Garrett: $121,800
Board of Education chairman: $6,000
Board of Education members: $5,400

Mitchell County

Superintendent Chad Calhoun: $113,667.52
Board of Education members: $3,600

Polk County

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Superintendent Aaron Greene: $95,000
Board of Education members: $3,600

Rutherford County

Superintendent Janet Mason: $179,262.76
Assistant Superintendent David Sutton: $106,968
Board of Education chairman: $2,400
Board of Education members: $1,800

Swain County

Superintendent Robert Patillo: $105,072
Associate Superintendent Regina Mathis: $98,628
Board of Education chairman: $4,800
Board of Education members: $4,200

Transylvania County

Superintendent Jeff McDaris: $117,432
Board of Education chairman: $3,000
Board of Education members: $2,400

Watauga County

Superintendent Scott Elliott: $142,066
Assistant superintendent Stephen Martin: $97,384
Board of Education chairman: $5,000
Board of Education members: $4,500

Yancey County

Superintendent Tony Tipton: $110,124
Board of Education chairman: $4,200
Board of Education members: $3,600

Michael Gebelein

Michael Gebelein was an investigative reporter with Carolina Public Press. To contact Carolina Public Press, email info@carolinapublicpress.org or call 828-774-5290.

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