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Cleveland schools CEO, exec team forgo salary increase in 2024 amid budget troubles

CMSD CEO Warren Morgan speaks at a clear podium in front of a blue backdrop reading "The City Club of Cleveland."
Michaelangelo’s Photography
CMSD CEO Warren Morgan speaks during his first State of the Schools speech on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. Morgan said June 25, 2024 that he'll be forgoing an annual salary increase as the district faces financial challenges, about one year into the job.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Warren Morgan said this week that he and his executive team will forgo the usual salary increase that staff get this year.

Morgan and CMSD Board of Education Chair Sara Elaqad said during a board meeting Tuesday that the board and Morgan came to the decision jointly in the face of a significant budget deficit and an operating levy on the ballot this November.

"I want to say that the board appreciates Dr. Morgan's careful leadership as we are making other sacrifices across the district in service of our students futures," Elaqad said. "And our agreement on this and our determination speaks to Dr. Morgan's personal buy-in to our district's future success and his seriousness in addressing our financial challenges for the future good of our students."

The district in a statement said that typically all central office administrators are awarded an annual cost-of-living adjustment, in line with raises given to CMSD's various labor union-represented staff, which included a 4% raise for teachers this year.

Morgan said the decision not to seek raises for those central office staff extends to anyone with chief, officer or deputy chief in their title. That includes 19 people out of a total staff of about 465 people, according to public records obtained by Polly Karr, a CMSD parent who recently started a blog recently calling for more accountability for district operations. Karr shared those records with Ideastream Public Media.

Currently, Morgan's base salary is $285,000 a year, on top of a $750 per-month car allowance; his executive cabinet of 10 staffers makes, combined, almost $2 million. Some of those staffers did receive a raise last year after Morgan came into office and formed the cabinet and set their salaries, although in most cases it was due to their positions changing. Former CMSD CEO Eric Gordon's chief of staff, Karen Thompson received a $19,651 salary bump when Morgan placed her in the role of chief of facilities and operations. She now earns $216,176 annually, according to the records.

Chief Financial Officer Kevin Stockdale, who was chief financial officer under Gordon, saw his salary jump from $178,500 to $193,500 when Morgan set the cabinet positions. The district said in the statement that the increase was necessary.

"In Mr. Stockdale’s case, Dr. Morgan approved a higher salary to better align with the prevailing market wages for comparable positions," the district said in an email. "Mr. Stockdale’s salary still trails the salary of the District’s previous full-time CFO when adjusted for cost-of-living increases awarded since that time."

The school district said that the executive-level positions are in line with past salaries at the district.

"Although the positional makeup of the ELT is different under CEO Morgan’s leadership than under the prior administration, for comparative purposes, the average of the nine highest salaries authorized by CEO Morgan is less than the average of the nine highest salaries authorized the final year of the prior administration when adjusted for the 2% cost-of-living adjustment awarded between those years," the statement reads.

So far, the only positions the school district has cut as it faces a significant budget deficit are at the central office level. In total, 62 positions at the district's central office level have been cut, including 23 active staff and 39 vacant positions, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Stockdale said during a board meeting last month. Staff were recently notified of the layoffs. That's about 12.6% of the district's total administrative staff, more than the 10% that the district had initially proposed cutting, CMSD CEO Warren Morgan said.

However, as Ideastream Public Media reported earlier this year, financial records from the Ohio Department of Education show CMSD spends the most per pupil on administration out of any of Ohio’s eight big urban public school systems, about $4,098 per student as compared to Columbus City Schools' $3,494 per pupil, according to fiscal year 2023 statistics. About $143 million of an $833 million budget in that year went to administrative spending, compared to $461 million going to instruction. Cincinnati Public Schools, with a similar-sized enrollment, spent $86.5 million on administration out of a $696 million budget, with about $350 million going to instruction.

The district also has cut other programming in its bid to curb costs, although most of those cuts have revolved around ending pandemic-relief funded programs as that money has run out, including summer school and non-district-run after-school programs.

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Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.