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Raising eyebrows

Faced with grumbling from legislators, the Ohio state board of education is defending its recent decision to increase the base salary of the state superintendent of public instruction by no less than 33 percent in one year.

Susan Tave Zelman

On March 6, the board voted 16-0 to approve a $15,000 bonus for Susan Tave Zelman, who entered her second year as state schools chief this month. The bonus had been contingent on her completion of such tasks as establishing a long-term plan for the education department and long-range goals for Ohio schools.

Determining that she had met the requirements, the board awarded the bonus, bringing Ms. Zelman's 1999 compensation to $150,000. The board simultaneously increased her base salary from $135,000 to $180,000.

That figure appears to rank toward the top, according to a recent survey of 46 states by the Council of Chief State School Officers. As of January, Illinois led the nation by paying its school chief $190,000. Only three other states— Alabama, New York, and Texas—paid more than $150,000.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers blasted Ms. Zelman's raise as being too much, too soon, given the fiscal uncertainty stemming from the state's pending school finance case.

"Giving the state superintendent an exorbitant raise after only one year on the job hardly seems like a prudent way to spend precious education dollars," said House Minority Leader Jack Ford, a Democrat, wrote in a letter recommending that the board roll back Ms. Zelman's salary to its 1999 level.

But Martha W. Wise, the president of the state board, said there were no plans to reverse the decision.

"We feel the salary is commensurate with her level of compatibility in the job, her desire to move forward, and her goals for herself," Ms. Wise said.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 22

Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as State Journal

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