Impoverished San Bernardino Schools Boast One Of State’s Best Paid Superintendents

By Harvey M. Kahn
While statistical clear- inghouses show San Bernardino has one of the higher poverty rates and lower academic achievement scores in the state, those charged with administering that student population are not living hand-to-mouth. San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dale Marsden just negotiated a four-year contract worth $1.2 million in base pay. Transparent California projects that when adding his annual salary, benefits and pension, Marsden will get at least $1.7 million over four years based on a $432,817.32 total compensation package per year.
Marsden oversees 49,000 students at 71 schools, making him superintendent in the tenth largest school district in the state. The San Bernardino City Unified School District website shows that 90 percent of its student population lives below the federally defined poverty level and most are eligible for a free lunch. About 2,800 of its students are homeless. Great and other rating agencies say the San Bernardino City Unified School District is performing below average when computing test scores and student readiness for college. The San Bernardino City Unified School District acknowledges that only 28.3 percent of its students met college course requirements in 2014-2015. However, it does graduate 91 percent of its high school seniors.
Statistics from the California State Department of Education show in 2016 that 49 percent of students in San Bernardino are performing below state standards in math, 39 percent are not meeting standards in English language arts/literacy and 45 percent are testing below standard in reading. Dropout rates in San Bernardino could not be located.
Hired in 2012 to replace Dr. Arturo Delgado, Marsden accepted the challenge of moving to San Bernardino, a region trying to fight the stigma of bankruptcy, crime and political corruption. Marsden’s decision to leave the Victor Valley School District for San Bernardino appeared noble when considering that NBC News has gone on record to claim San Bernardino is per capita California’s most dangerous city.
When comparing Marsden’s salary, he makes more than Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michele King whose total pay/benefits is $397,987 per year, according to Transparent California. King manages the second largest district in the nation with 734,000 students in 900 schools. Her 60,000 employees are paid from the district’s $7 billion annual budget. San Bernardino has a $650 million annual budget to help pay 8,000 employees.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cynthia Marten receives an annual package of $345,919 to manage 135,000 students in 231 schools. About 16 percent of Marten’s students live below poverty. Neighboring Riverside Unified School District Superintendent David Hansen is the CEO for 53 schools that instructs 42,500 students and receives an annual package of $328,453. The state department of education shows that 44 percent of Riverside’s graduates are meeting college course requirements.
Transparent California shows the Riverside Unified School District Board has approved six administrator’s salary packages exceeding $200,000 and another 116 receiving annual compensation over $150,000. The San Bernardino City Unified School District has seven employees receiving over $200,000 and another 111 getting packages over $150,000. San Bernardino’s deputy superintendent Harold Volkommer totaled $261,469 and assistant superintendent John A. Peukert $233,202 in 2016.
Marsden negotiated his recent contract with the school district board just before the 2017 school year. His annual base pay is $307,546, but that amount increases when additional pay and total benefits are computed. In a copy of a five-page contract provided by the district, it states that Marsden has been issued a district credit card for expenses he incurs while representing the district. In addition, he can be reimbursed for all necessary business related expenses paid in the conduct of his duties. His contract did not specify a spending limit in those two entries.
Two “other pay” items in Marsden’s contract are $24,000 worth of annual life insurance deposited into a trust account, and another $12,000 per year he receives that is deposited in a tax sheltered account. Other inclusions are a $14,400 annual housing allowance and a $9,120 auto allowance. He gets 24 vacation days and 30 sick days per year and full lifetime medical and dental coverage for himself and his wife if he retires from the district.
Marsden received $185,212 in total pay/benefits when hired by the San Bernardino City Unified School District in 2012. Since then his salary package has more than doubled. He was renewed at $303,298 in 2013, up to $343,728 in 2014, increased to $385,414 in 2015, and $430,329 in 2016. At that rate, Marsden will receive over $2 million before his contract expires in 2021.
Numerous attempts to reach Marsden through the “proper protocol” over a one week time span were unsuccessful. San Bernardino City Unified School District communications officer Maria Garcia said she could not respond to questions regarding Marsdan’s salary, as it is the school board that sets his salary. “Dr. Marsden’s salary is comparable to that of other urban school superintendents in California,” said Garcia.
Although Marsden’s salary exceeds others in his position from much larger districts, his pay does not match that of Ontario-Montclair Superintendent James Hammond who receives $516,573 per year. Hammond manages kindergarten through eighth grade in a district where 85% of his 22,000 students are eligible for a free lunch.

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