Downstate superintendent is called to resign, receives bonus
Nashville Community High School District 99’s superintendent received a $63,540 bonus after retiring amid a backlash caused by a controversial column in a local newspaper.
Nashville High School Superintendent Ernie Fowler received a five-figure bonus after retiring in the midst of calls for his removal after writing an inappropriate column about high school girls volleyball.
Fowler, age 56, came on as superintendent of the Nashville Community High School District 99 in 2015. He retired Sept. 26, and received $63,540, according to the Belleville News-Democrat, or BND.
More than three-quarters of Illinois’ superintendents have six-figure salaries, and many also get additional benefits in car and housing allowances, as well as bonuses. In the 2015-16 school year, Fowler earned an annual salary of $145,220.
Fowler faced calls for his removal after penning a controversial article as part of his weekly column in the Nashville News, a local paper. In his Aug. 30 column, Fowler recounts an episode from his high school days in which he explicitly describes the appearance of a female teenager playing volleyball.
The public backlash against Fowler’s column was swift, with calls from the teachers union at Nashville High School for his resignation or removal.
BND noted that bonuses for people of Fowler’s position in the Metro East are relatively rare, naming five other superintendents who did not receive a bonus. Other high-level school administrators who did receive bonuses did not receive as much. BND points to former Belle Valley District 119 Superintendent Louis Obernuefemann and Signal Hill School District 181 Superintendent Suzette Lambert, who received $10,000, and $2,100 respectively.
However, the bonuses were structured differently than Fowler’s. BND explains that Obernuefemann’s bonus was spread over three years, with the contract stating the bonus was contingent on Obernuefemann working in the Belle Valley District for 15 years. And had Lambert left before her contract was up, she would’ve had to pay Signal Hill’s school board up to $5,000 to help in the search for someone to fill her position.
But Fowler’s bonus was far more generous than what either Obernuefemann or Lambert received, and it may have had something to do with how badly District 99 wanted him gone.
Fowler retired upon turning 56, the age at which he was eligible for retirement. The bonus was paid out partly “in consideration for his immediate and unconditional resignation,” according to BND.
High administrative pay in Illinois’ school districts comes with fiscal consequences. Those high salaries lead to pension benefits of $2 million to $6 million each over the course of their retirements.
Not only are Illinois’ superintendents highly compensated, but there are also a lot of them.
Illinois has more than 850 local school districts, the fifth-most in the nation. And of those districts, nearly half only serve one or two schools. This is the case with Nashville District 99. Cutting the number of Illinois school districts in half would save the state an estimated $130 million to $170 million in annual costs, and $3 billion to $4 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years.
Nashville Community High School District’s decision to give Fowler such a large retirement bonus after he publicly embarrassed the district demonstrates a set of warped priorities that values executive compensation over funding for classrooms.