Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Chief Given $80,000-a-Year Pact

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education has approved a four-year contract under which Eugene Tucker will earn $80,000 a year when he takes over as superintendent in July.

Tucker, who is paid $75,000 a year as superintendent of the ABC Unified School District in Cerritos, agreed last month to replace Supt. George Caldwell, who will retire in June after 10 years with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

In approving Tucker's contract Wednesday, the board increased the salary of its chief administrator to one of the highest in the county. Tucker will make roughly $10,000 more a year than Caldwell.

"What we are saying is that the top leadership is absolutely essential to the successful operation of this district, and if you are going to get a top person, that is what you have to pay," said school board President Richard Williams.

Tucker will receive an additional $6,000 a year in travel expenses.

Michael Merriam, the principal accountant of the payroll section of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said that of 95 school districts in the county, only the superintendents in the Beverly Hills, Montebello, Bonita and Los Angeles Unified School districts now earn more than $80,000 a year. (The Long Beach Unified School District will pay its new superintendent $90,000 a year when he begins work in February.)

Beverly Hills Supt. Leon Lessinger makes about $83,000 a year and is provided a car. Los Angeles schools Supt. Harry Handler is the highest-paid superintendent in the county, with a four-year contract at about $113,000 a year. Handler also is provided a car and a school security agent as a driver.

Merriam said superintendents in the county make an average salary of $63,000. "The bulk of the districts pay between $60,000 to $70,000," he said. The Gorman School District pays its superintendent the lowest salary in the county--about $36,000.

On the Westside, Culver City Supt. Curtis Rethmeyer is the lowest-paid superintendent, with a salary of $66,144. He is provided an automobile and expenses.

"There is a tendency (in school districts) to jump the salary up when a new superintendent is brought in from the outside and not promoted from within," said Rethmeyer.

'Sensitive to Changes'

Rethmeyer, who recently signed a new four-year contract with his district, said that his salary is open to negotiation at the close of each school year. "My board is sensitive to the salary changes," he said. "They do take that into account."

Tucker's contract drew an immediate response from June Lucas, the president of the 600-member Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Assn., which is involved in its own contract negotiations with the district.

"We think it is important for the board to hire a well-qualified individual to meet the needs of our district," she said, "but it is also imperative that appropriate monies be allocated to the salaries of all the employees.

"It is very difficult for our members to hear a proposal offering only a 3% salary increase from the district when a significant amount of money has been found to increase the salary for the new superintendent."

Tucker's selection ended a 4 1/2-month search involving more than 150 applicants across the country. An executive search firm named Tucker as one of six finalists and a 26-member advisory committee listed him as a favored candidate.

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