Muscogee schools superintendent is getting a 20% raise. Here’s how he ranks in Georgia

During its monthly meeting Monday night, and without public discussion, the Muscogee County School District Board unanimously approved a 20% pay raise for the superintendent.

The amended contract also includes giving superintendent David Lewis a three-year term.

According to the agenda, the amended contract would provide Lewis an annual base salary of $243,600. The annual base salary in his current contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2024, is $203,000.

The new salary for Lewis, according to the latest figures available (fiscal year 2022) in the state’s database for salaries of public officials at would rank him as the 34th highest-paid superintendent among Georgia’s 181 public school districts:

1. $639,037 - DeKalb County

2. $444,770 - Bibb County

3. $443,598 - Clayton County

4. $439,729 - Cobb County

5. $437,005 - Fulton County

6. $402,343 - Gwinnett County

7. $376,901 - Cherokee County

8. $372,945 - Atlanta

9. $349,925 - Carrollton

10. $346,590 - Savannah-Chatham County

11. $332,878 Henry County

12. $322,939 - Forsyth County

13. $317,166 - Houston County

14. $314,057 - Walton County

15. $310,202 - Bryan County

16. $301,637 - Buford

17. $299,746 - Fayette County

18. $290,778 - Baldwin County

19. $287,659 - Marietta

20. $285,668 - Douglas County

21. $284,801 - Bartow County

22. $283,655 - Lowndes County

23. $274,436 - Rockdale County

24. $266,854 - Oconee County

25. $262,579 - Dougherty County

26. $260,717 - Richmond County

27. $260,003- Haralson County

28. $258,964 - Putnam County

29. $258,204 - Pulaski County

30. $258,082 - Carroll County

31. $255,905- Hall County

32. $253,135 - Paulding County

33. $251,333 - Floyd County

The last raise for Lewis came in December 2021, when the board unanimously voted to increase by 9% his annual base salary of $186,000.

Lewis was associate superintendent for learning in Polk County, Fla., when the MCSD board hired him in 2013 and gave him a three-year contract with an annual base salary of $170,000.

Since then, the other raises to his base salary have been by:

A copy of the new contract isn’t attached to the agenda. The Ledger-Enquirer has requested a copy and will update this story after it’s received.

Rationale and reaction

Responding to the L-E’s query, MCSD board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 emailed the following statement Tuesday:

“This is Dr. Lewis’ tenth year serving as Superintendent of schools. And again, he has received the highest rating of Satisfactory on his annual evaluation. Dr. Lewis has made tremendous and notable accomplishments while focusing on delivering the ten year plan that he assessed to establish the Muscogee County School District as what he called ‘a school system and not a system of schools.’

“This approach to address the Board’s primary goal of closing the gap in student achievement along with school districts of comparable size and demographic as well as experience warrants a salary increase. Our students and families are benefiting from specific achievements in areas from improved targets in early literacy to multiple pathways for full option diplomas for every graduate and graduation rates that exceed the state average. Our Governance Team continues as an exemplary team because of cutting edge educational leadership that fosters cohesiveness, transparency and forward thinking.”

After the board’s vote, Lewis expressed his gratitude and announced his plan to use some of his pay raise to benefit MCSD.

“Thank you to all members of the board and the governance team for your confidence and trust in me and my leadership,” Lewis said. “I want to convey my thanks and my appreciation to all members of our team, both at the cabinet level and beyond. This is something that I’ve always appreciated about our team: We work together. We have challenges we work through, but I’m very proud in saying that we have come together as a team, and I’m very appreciative of all the efforts.

“My wife, Karen, and I are very deeply committed to public education, as well as this district and this community. . . . This increase in pay, after I’ve done my tithing and tax implications, much of it will be dedicated to establishing a scholarship to help an MCSD student who needs and deserves an opportunity to become an educator in exchange for working to be an educator and a teacher in one of our more challenged schools. More details will come on that, but I just want to say thank you for believing in me, the vision and for helping me to accelerate the opportunity to help some young people in their path to become a professional educator in Muscogee County.”

Academic progress for Muscogee schools

According to Georgia Department of Education statistics, MCSD is at all-time highs or exceeds the cohort, state or national averages in the major metrics for academic progress during Lewis’ tenure (2013-23) in Columbus.

MCSD’s graduation rate has improved from 72.8% in 2013 to 93.5% in 2023, the 11th consecutive year outperforming the state average and the ninth consecutive year outperforming the national average.

For college entrance exams, MCSD’s average score on the SAT has improved from 1435 out of 2400 points in 2013 to 1082 out of 1600 points in 2022, the fifth straight year outperforming the state and national averages. MCSD’s average score on the ACT has improved from 19.8 out of 36 points in 2019 (the oldest data available for district averages) to 19.9 in 2023.

On the Advanced Placement tests, the number of students scoring at 3 or above on the 5-point scale, which is considered passing and sometimes acceptable for college credit, is at an all-time high. MCSD also is at an all-time high and surpassed the state average on the percentage of students in Career, Technical and Agricultural Education completing a three-course program.

That academic improvement came while the district’s percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-priced meals increased from 71.7 in 2013 to 79.6 in 2022.

On the state’s standardized tests, the Georgia Milestones, which were implemented in 2015, MCSD improved in most categories through 2019, declined in most categories since the COVID-19 pandemic, but improved on nine of the 27 tests its percentage of students scoring at least on the proficient level compared to last year. MCSD also continues to outperform the school districts in cities with similar size and demographics to Columbus: August (Richmond County), Macon (Bibb County) and Savannah (Chatham County).

Other metrics for MCSD

MCSD’s fund balance was down to approximately 23 days of expenses when Lewis became superintendent in 2013. As of this past summer, the fund balance was around 62 days with budgeted expenditures of $342.5 million from the general fund for the fiscal year. School districts try to be at least at the 60-day level to receive the best bond ratings and the best interest rates for capital projects.

As for those capital projects, MCSD has continued to receive public votes of confidence during Lewis’ tenure with the 2015 and 2020 renewals of the ESPLOST (1% Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for capital projects such as building new facilities and renovating, expanding or updating existing ones.