Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson will receive a $15,000 bonus this year after the school board voted Tuesday to reward him for the district’s improved test scores.
The 6-3 vote means that Hopson will see a one-time bump in his $269,000 salary at a time when test scores are on the rise but the district’s enrollment and funding are shrinking.
“I want to thank the board for showing confidence in me,” Hopson said following the vote. “I want to thank the teachers and our schools for having an extraordinary year. To some extent, I was able to ride their coattails.”
The district posted higher scores in almost every tested subject, and two thirds of schools saw their average scores increase from last year, according to testing data that the state released last week.
Some of the sharpest gains came in the district’s Innovation Zone, a group of 14 schools that have gotten extra funding and flexibility in an effort to boost persistently low scores.
“I think it is important for us to show support for the leader of this particular school district who has taken on the monumental task of turnaround efforts and education reform movement that has yielded the results we say we want,” said board member Shante Avant, who put forth the motion for the bonus.
Chairwoman Teresa Jones said that Hopson had neither been offered nor asked for a bonus after his first formal evaluation in June 2014, so this year’s test scores were enough to bring the issue before the board.
Board member Stephanie Love said she believes Hopson has done a good job but was hesitant to award a bonus at a time when the district is short on cash. Shrinking enrollment caused the district to slash $125 million from its budget in April and lay off more than 500 employees a few months later. Hopson also recently withdrew his proposal to reduce the health benefits of people who retired from the district but warned that the district would need to cut costs some other way.
“As board members, we have stressed that we don’t have any money,” said Love, who voted against the bonus. “We cut teachers, we cut staff; we’re saying that we’re strapped for cash. And now we want to give the superintendent a raise.”
Love added that her constituents in the Memphis community of Frayser are not pleased with Hopson’s work. The state-run Achievement School District has absorbed several low-performing schools in that suburb, removing them from the local district’s oversight.
Hopson took the helm of Shelby County Schools in 2013 as its first superintendent after the former Memphis City Schools merged with legacy Shelby County Schools. An attorney, he previously worked as associate general counsel for Atlanta Public Schools and later as general counsel for the Clayton County School System in Georgia. In 2008, he became general counsel of Memphis City Schools.
Shelby County Schools is the largest public school district in Tennessee, the 22nd largest in the nation, and one of the largest employers in Greater Memphis.
Last year, Shelby County teachers received performance bonuses ranging from $250 to $1,250, although some said they would have preferred raises that would have increased their base salary for the future. The district set aside $6 million specifically to reward teachers and has set aside roughly the same amount for the upcoming school year, said human resources director Trinette Small.