By Joshua Benton
Wilmer-Hutchins Superintendent Charles Matthews received more than $16,000 in illegal pay last year, according to investigators.
The Texas Education Agency now says he’ll have to pay back the money, which violates a clause of the Texas Constitution. But Dr. Matthews said Wednesday that he wasn’t convinced he had to.
“I’ll have to look at the legal aspects of it,” he said. “If I don’t have to pay it, I won’t. If I do have to pay it, I will.”
The illegal pay is one of several findings in the preliminary audit report generated by TEA investigators. They arrived in the troubled district Aug. 30, after the district ran out of money and couldn’t afford to pay its teachers. On Monday, the district announced that it would have to lay off nearly 20 percent of its workforce in the coming months to remain solvent.
Among the report’s other findings:
*The district illegally funneled $500,000 from its bond fund into general revenues as officials realized they were running out of money.
*Despite a hiring freeze – instituted as part of a plan to recover from previous financial mismanagement – the district hired new employees and gave some raises.
*Without immediate action, the district will have a deficit of $5.3 million for the current school year.
Dr. Matthews’ disputed pay dates to his hiring in October 2002. According to board president Luther Edwards, Dr. Matthews initially negotiated a salary of $175,000.
That was substantially higher than his predecessor, Harvey Rayson, although it’s unclear how much Mr. Rayson was actually paid. Mr. Edwards said Mr. Rayson made $125,000. State records indicate his salary was actually $95,100.
In any event, Dr. Matthews agreed to a $175,000 salary. But Mr. Edwards said the district didn’t want to pay that amount immediately. “I wanted to wait until after we did the budget,” he said. So Dr. Matthews accepted a $125,000 salary initially.
In April 2003, the district gave him a $50,000 raise, retroactive to his date of hire. Mr. Edwards didn’t say at the time that the raise had been prenegotiated – he said it was the result of a six-month performance review.
At the time, Dr. Matthews defended the raise. “Less-experienced superintendents are cheaper,” he said. “You get what you pay for. I’m here to take Wilmer-Hutchins to new heights academically.”
But according to the preliminary audit report, that raise violated the Texas Constitution, which prevents extra compensation for a public official once his contracted period of service has begun.
As a result, the audit report lists as a “required action” Dr. Matthews repaying the $16,666.64 he received retroactively.
Mr. Edwards said he had not had enough time to examine the audit report in full. But he said that if the district finds the agency is correct, Dr. Matthews will repay the money. Under TEA rules, Dr. Matthews and the district have until Nov. 3 to respond to the preliminary audit. Once the district responds, TEA will file a final audit report. At that point, the agency could choose to take over the district or institute other sanctions.