Posted Apr 10 2017 12:31PM CDT
Video Posted Apr 10 2017 09:37PM CDT
Updated Apr 10 2017 10:00PM CDT
GRAND PRAIRIE - As many North Texas school districts struggle to increase teacher pay, fix dilapidated school buildings and get new technology, a FOX 4 Investigation has uncovered some pricey perks you may not know the people at the top are getting.
FOX 4 found some districts providing houses, an interest free $1.2 million loan for housing and other perks that add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars across the region.
For example, Grand Prairie ISD purchased a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in 2016. Superintendent Dr. Susan Hull currently lives there.
The home sits on five acres of land, has a three car garage and a swimming pool, and is valued by the Dallas Central Appraisal District at $413,520.
The district bought the house using money from the 2015 bond program, but has not disclosed the exact amount of tax dollars spent on the purchase.
Parents of GPISD students had no idea the district purchased a home.
“Oh wow! I didn't know about that until you told me about it today,” said Karen Misagal, a GPISD parent.
Belinda Rodriguez, whose grandchild attends a GPISD school said, “Oh that’s not cool. That’s not cool at all.”
Earning a salary of $360,795 annually, Dr. Hull is the highest paid superintendent in North Texas.
The district charges Dr. Hull $2,000 a month to rent the house. However, Dr. Hull only pays $1,000 out of her own pocket, since she receives a $1,000 monthly housing stipend as part of her employment contract.
The district said it bought the house because it needed part of the property for a road to relieve traffic at Garner Fine Arts Academy, an elementary school behind the house. The school is currently undergoing an expansion.
Since the original owner of the house did not want to parcel, or split up, the property, the district bought the entire five-acre lot and the home in January 2016.
Six months later, the superintendent’s new contract included a clause stating that she would live in a house owned by the district.
FOX 4 asked the district for construction plans for that road that it said would be cutting through the property, but the district has not provided any documentation.
Sam Buchmeyer, the district’s spokesperson, also did not say when construction on the road would begin.
“It's not uncommon for superintendents to live in homes owned by districts," Buchmeyer told FOX 4.
To verify this, FOX 4 examined contracts of the top 10 highest paid superintendents in North Texas.
Among the highest paid superintendents, the only other one with housing assistance is Highland Park superintendent Dr. Tom Trigg.
Highland Park ISD is giving Dr. Trigg a $1.2 million interest-free loan for his house in Highland Park, on top of his $320,000 base salary. He is required to live in the district, where the median home price is nearly $1.7 million.
On top of that interest-free home loan, the Highland Park superintendent also gets $5,000 a year for having a doctorate degree.
Grand Prairie ISD spokesperson Sam Buchmeyer told FOX 4 that Red Oak ISD also has a house for interim superintendent Alan Oakley.
However, Oakley is not among the top 10 highest paid superintendents. He makes $164,000 a year.
Red Oak ISD bought the 2,500 square foot home in 2011 for the previous superintendent Dr. Scott Niven. It is next to the district’s football stadium.
Out of the top 10 highest paid superintendents’ contracts we examined, Arlington ISD’s superintendent, Dr. Marcelo Cavazos is the only one who automatically receives $12,000 a year for “business expenses” on top of his $289,571 salary. That perk includes things like meals and events with board members and those “with a relationship with the district.” The other districts pay or reimburse business expenses on a case by case basis.
Dr. Cavazos also receives a $43,000 annual bonus for meeting performance goals.
Back in Grand Prairie, Dr. Susan Hull also gets an extra $60,000 a year for three years to ensure she’ll stay on the job.
Dr. Hull declined FOX 4’s request for an on-camera interview, but did provide a written statement, which stated, in part:
"I was already interested in moving to a smaller house since my children are grown and on their own now. I thought I could help the community by temporarily renting the smaller house on the new Garner support property to, in a sense, help buy down the purchase price of the property until it is developed into additional instructional or staff development space."
(Dr. Susan Hull’s full statement is at the end of this article.)
Grand Prairie’s school board president also declined an on-camera interview.
The district said it plans to use the home for “instructional activities” in the future, but did not provide details.
“It's all about the flexibility,” Buchmeyer said. “We can do just about anything, ranging from training to onsite development with students to the instructional part of it. It could vary. It could really vary.”
FOX 4 asked if the district plans to gut or renovate the house in the future to accommodate those plans.
“That is one of many options,” Buchmeyer said. “The options are to keep it as is, to raze it, to build another building, I mean, anything you can think of, that option is there.”
Dr. Hull has been GPISD’s superintendent for 10 years. Twelve years ago, she was named Texas Superintendent of the Year.
Buchmeyer said the school board is compensating Dr. Hull based on her performance as a district leader.
But, parents who spoke to FOX 4 expressed concern about how their tax dollars were spent.
“It's kind of not fair in a way for the taxpayers, because we're paying that for the district, for the students, so it should benefit the students,” Karen Misagal said.
“Makes us wonder where our tax money is going here,” said Belinda Rodriguez, who also said she wants to see her tax dollars going back into the schools.
The district said the set-up is only temporary, but did not give a timeline for when the house would be repurposed for something else or when the road will be built.
Thus, at the moment, the house is Dr. Hull’s residence indefinitely.
The district billed FOX 4 $50 for public documents that would show how much it has spent on renovations and maintenance of the property so far. FOX 4 agreed to the charges, but the district has not provided the documents.
The district also has not yet provided the form that would reveal how much it paid for the house.
All of those requests were made in February.