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Carol Johnson, Memphis school superintendent, at a board meeting in Tennessee this month. Her new job starts Aug. 20.
Carol Johnson, Memphis school superintendent, at a board meeting in Tennessee this month. Her new job starts Aug. 20. (Greg Campbell for the Boston Globe)

Next superintendent's pay to be highest in city's history

Committee OKs Johnson's contract

Carol Johnson will earn a base salary of $275,000 her first year as Boston's superintendent, making her the highest-paid schools chief in the city's history, according to her contract approved last night.

Johnson's base salary is $70,000 more than that of Thomas W. Payzant, who served as superintendent for 11 years, and $5,000 more than Michael G. Contompasis received . Contompasis took over after Payzant retired last June. Otherwise, the contract has similar perks to her predecessors in Boston.

Like Payzant, Johnson will be eligible to receive a yearly performance bonus of up to $20,000 if she fulfills the goals outlined by the School Committee. The goals could include improving test scores, getting more parents involved in schools, and attending community events and public meetings, said a school system spokesman.

Johnson will also receive a $7,200 annual car allowance, annual contributions toward her retirement, and a housing allowance of up to $18,000 while she sells her house in Memphis. Her contract, excluding the one-time housing allowance and retirement contributions that have yet to be calculated, could be worth up to $302,200 a year.

She will also receive a 2.5 percent raise each year, provided she has satisfactory performance. By June 30, 2012, when her contract expires, Johnson will be paid a $303,548 base salary.

The Boston School Committee formally approved Johnson's appointment and offered her a five-year contract last night, making her the highest paid city official in Boston, judging on base salary. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who ranks second, makes a base salary of $175,000, according to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. The police and fire commissioners each make $167,500. The school superintendent 's salary traditionally tops the list.

Johnson, superintendent of the 115,000-student Memphis city schools where she makes $204,516, will assume her duties in Boston on Aug. 20.

"I'm very excited we have gotten to this point. I think it bodes very well for the future of Boston," said School Committee chairwoman Elizabeth Reilinger, who also served on the search committee.

She and other committee members praised Johnson's passion for improving educational access, opportunity, and equity for students.

"She really walks the talk," said Reilinger. "The woman goes for 18 hours a day."

To lead the roughly 57,000- student Boston school system, Johnson, 59, will make more than what her peers, on average, earn in other urban districts, but her base salary is not the highest, according to the Council of the Great City Schools. Urban superintendent salaries in 2006 ranged from $140,000 to $305,000, according to the council, which represents 65 large urban school districts in the country.

The average urban superintendent salary in 2006 was $207,547, and the average benefit package was valued at approximately $82,000, including annual bonuses and car and housing allowances. The average pay for urban superintendents increased 20.2 percent in the last 10 years, accounting for inflation, because the job has become more demanding, with increased pressures of meeting more state and federal requirements on test scores, according to the council's report.

Payzant made a base salary of $205,000. While he was also allowed a car, he did not take the perk his last two years. He received a performance bonus every year except for one during budget cuts. Payzant was reimbursed more than $30,000 for his retirement contributions.

Contompasis -- Payzant's former chief operating officer, who took over last summer -- receives a $270,000 base salary, based on a contract ending July 1. Last night, the School Committee extended his contract until Johnson starts in August. Contompasis will continue to serve as a special assistant to Johnson through September to help with the start of the school year and Johnson's transition.

He will also be reimbursed more than $13,000 for his retirement contributions.

It appears that Johnson's salary will be less than what was offered Manuel J. Rivera, who was named Boston superintendent last fall but backed out in late January for another job before his contract was finalized. Rivera was offered a five-year contract with a base salary of nearly $300,000 during his first year, with increases each year, said Reilinger at the time.

Boston also considered giving Rivera a one-time $150,000 housing allowance, much higher than what Johnson will receive, a $50,000 annual contribution to his pension, and up to a $20,000 yearly performance bonus.

Yesterday, Reilinger said his salary would have been equivalent to what Johnson was offered. She said the School Committee was able to raise money from the Boston business community to give Johnson the housing allowance she requested.

"Nothing's guaranteed, but I hope she's the person who can take us to the next level," said School Committee member Alfreda J. Harris.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com.

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