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Making the Grade, Brentwood Superintendent's Contract

by Craig Cheatham

KMOV.com

Posted on September 16, 2010 at 3:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 10:46 AM

Brentwood Superintendent Dr. Charles Penberthy makes a salary of $216,000 a year, plus benefits, for running a school district with about 800 students, one of the smallest in the metro area. His contract  pays him $270 in salary for every student in the district. Kirkwood Superintendent Dr. Tom Williams makes a salary of $242,000, the highest base pay in the metro area. Williams receives $48 per student. Fort Zumwalt Superintendent Dr. Bernie DuBray, who makes a salary of $174,000, plus benefits, runs a district with 24 schools and almost 19,000 students. He makes 9 dollars in salary for every student in his district.

Brentwood bills its high school as a national award-winning school with a rich tradition, and it has many terrific qualities, but it has also had challenges. In 2005, the school's average ACT composite test score was below the state average. Now, the scores are a point and a half above the average, which is significant, but many students don't take the test. The small student population at Brentwood can make test scores rise or fall much more than a bigger district. So, it's hard to figure out if improvements or declines are directly related to anything specific in Brentwood.

Dr. Penberthy refused to discuss his contract. Board President Keith Rabenberg declined to be interviewed on-camera, but insisted the contract is fair based on Penberthy's experience and important role in the district. Yesterday, Penberthy e-mailed me a letter  Rabenberg wrote to the parents of Brentwood students. In the letter, Rabenberg says that the district operates in the "spirit of openness," adding that "my goal in preparing and sending this message was to attempt to explain the situation as fully as possible." Rabenberg admits that "we assumed" Brentwood would not be given enough time to adequately explain their opinions, even though we clearly gave people in last night's story the chance to do that. And, he claims people wouldn't get the chance to see the entire interview, even though we have broadcast uncut, or extended interviews on our website many times.  

In his letter, Rabenberg focuses on my questions about the size of the district, and clearly that's a significant part of our story. I also asked him about other districts, test scores and other issues that he said he would research and get back to me, but he didn't, instead he e-mailed me the next morning insisting that he had addressed those questions.

At 9:30 am Wednesday he wrote: "I believe I fully answered your questions yesterday on the phone, so I will pass on the on-camera interview."

I responded eight minutes later. "You didn't answer some of my questions. I recall that you felt the need to research some of the issues I raised because you didn't feel comfortable responding to some of the questions, especially those that involved comparisons with other districts."

At 10:37 he wrote back. "Perhaps you could let me know what particular topics about which you need further answers. I could then do the research I need. Thanks."

In the phone conversation I had given him several examples, but now he wanted me to give them to him again. I decided to simplify my request and just get Rabenberg's logic for giving Penberthy that kind of a contract. So, I wrote my next interview request about an hour later.

"Mr. Rabenberg,
 
All we really need to do with you is have you sit down on-camera and briefly explain the reasons why the Board gave the Brentwood Superintendent a salary of $216,000, plus benefits for a district with 800 students. We discussed these things during our phone conversation yesterday. Our request for an on-camera interview seems to be a small request, especially considering we had Board Presidents from Hazelwood, Kirkwood and Ferguson-Florissant all willing to be interviewed on-camera about contracts awarded to their Superintendents. 
 
We are available all day today, and tomorrow morning. Thanks for your time and attention."
 
At 11:43 am he wrote back. "Those are the subjects we discussed on the phone yesterday, and I don't have anything to add, so I will pass on the additional interview." Additional interview? Our conversation was simply an attempt to schedule an interview, even though I was able to get a sense of why he felt like he could defend the contract. 

In his letter, Rabenberg also talks about how little help Penberthy gets as superintendent, which may be true. However, data provided by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, suggests that Brentwood has too much fat in the administrative ranks. In 2009 Brentwood had 96 students for every administrator. The state average was twice as many students for every administrator. Brentwood also has much lower test scores than several other districts, including Ladue, which is widely recognized as one of the best school districts in the country. Ladue's district is nearly five times larger than Brentwood, has two more schools, and far better test scores. Ladue's superintendent receives a salary of $184,000, $32,000 less than Brentwood's superintendent.

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