Wilson's pay

The Buckeye Education Association teachers are expected to meet this week to discuss the next steps in their disapproval of Buckeye Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Kristi Wilson’s $1.7 million in extra compensation. 

Buckeye Education Association President Maria Camacho Moreno said the organization called for Wilson’s resignation. However, school board President Jane Hunt said the entity was just doing its job — in a public forum. 

“We don’t have any confidence in her anymore,” Moreno said of Wilson. 

The teachers are expected to share their frustrations once again at school board meetings. 

“They still stand behind her,” Moreno said about the board. “We’re going to weight our options and see what our next steps are. We’re going to meet to discuss our next plan of action. We need to be diligent.”

The extra compensation was revealed in part two of the Arizona auditor general’s performance audit of the Buckeye Elementary School District. 

The first report focused on the district’s efficiency and effectiveness in administration, plant operations and maintenance, food service and transportation. 

Part two focused on executive administrative spending, particularly the superintendent’s salary and benefits package, due to concerns identified during the initial audit. 

According to the performance audit, from July 2016 to December 2021, the district paid to or on behalf of Wilson more than $1.7 million of additional compensation. That brought Wilson’s total compensation for that time to about $3.3 million. 

That’s about “100% more than what the state’s three largest district spent on average on superintendent compensation, resulting in a possible gift of public monies in violation of Arizona Constitution,” the report states. 

The district “omitted ‘additional compensation’ amounts and other critical information in two of the superintendent’s employment agreements,” it continues. “Moreover, because the district miscalculated ‘required misholdings’ related to the ‘additional compensation,’ an estimated $571,256 of the over $1.7 million was paid beyond employment agreement terms.”

The Arizona auditor general’s office submitted its report to the Arizona attorney general’s office for appropriate action. 

District response

Hunt said the entity “strong disagrees with those findings.”

“The auditor’s findings center on the board’s negotiated agreement with Dr. Wilson to provide her with supplemental compensation to allow her to ‘buy back’ retirement credits that she earned while working in Oregon,” Hunt wrote in a letter to the “BESD Community.”

“For years, while the retirement systems at colleges and universities across the country have allowed employees to take their retirement benefits with them when accepting a job in another state, that has not been an option for secondary and primary school educators. 

“As a result, ‘buy back’ agreements have been a common solution school districts have used to recruit and retain educators who have previously worked in other states.”

Bruce Hunter, director of public policy for AASA, the School Superintendent Association, summed up the challenge: “…you can’t recruit across state lines very successfully when people are trapped by their retirements…if you want the free flow of school leadership across America, so that every school board has a chance to hire the best people possible, then you have to have a retirement system able to accommodate that.”

Hunt wrote, this issue of “pension portability” is complex, but it comes down to a challenge familiar to many in private business: “We wanted to provide a strong incentive for Dr. Wilson, a talented and successful superintendent, to stay with Buckeye schools.”

In April 2016, Wilson and the board agreed to add the employment benefit enabling her to purchase back retirement credits from Oregon and add them to her Arizona retirement, Hunt wrote.

The agreements were approved by the board at public meetings, and Wilson completed payment for the retirement credits in November 2021. Hunt added, “thus, the auditor general is raising issues with agreements that were legal and public, approved by the Arizona State Retirement System and which have been completed.”

She said, in return for the district funding this benefit, Wilson agreed to stay with it “for as long as the board offers her contracts. This stability is critical.”

“…A change in superintendent can mean disruptions to staff, a need for the new head of the district to learn about the community and familiarize him or herself with the needs of the district’s students and other tasks that can distract from the day-to-day job of managing the school system,” Hunt wrote.

“Dr. Wilson, hired as our assistant superintendent in 2010, is now heading into her 10th year as our superintendent. That translates into more stability for our district and other benefits for our students and their families.”

Hunt also wrote that during Wilson’s tenure, all Buckeye employees — teachers and staff — have received annual raises that were done in a “fiscally responsible manner.

“…In short, we’re doing the job we were elected to do. We welcome legitimate questions and scrutiny, but we also must be free to oversee our district in the manner we and the people who elected us believe best serves our students and their families.”

‘Punch in the gut’

A WestPark Elementary School first grade teacher, Moreno said she is still shocked about the findings.

“It felt like a punch in the gut,” Moreno said. 

“We tried to work and have a good working relationship with the administration to change things for a positive outcome for everybody — all the certified and classified staff, students and teachers. It was just really disheartening. They said we get a really good pay, compared to other school districts. To find out that we’re 15% under the state average and now this — that’s kind of disheartening.” 

Moreno has been with the Buckeye Elementary School District for 22 years and teaching for 17. She was hired to be a principal’s administrative assistant “when there was one school in the district.”

Wilson has been the superintendent since 2013. According to the report, four of the five current governing board members held their position since at least April 2016, when the governing board approved the first of three employment agreements calling for the superintendent to be paid additional compensation.