Controversy surrounds perks for Red Oak ISD superintendent
Reprint courtesy of WFAA-Channel 8 News
RED OAK — The house that sits on a 14-acre lot on Shawnee Road in Red Oak will soon be the home of the Red Oak ISD superintendent.
Scott Niven didn't buy the house, the district did. Board trustees purchased the entire lot last August for $260,000.
"We believe we have one of the best superintendents in the State of Texas, and so we felt it was like a good perk for him," explained ROISD trustee John Hawkins. "It's good for the district."
The board signed off on the new benefit in January to "secure longevity with the current and future superintendent and to ensure adequate supervision of district activities."
Niven, who has led the district for nearly six years, already owns his own home in Red Oak, less than six miles away from the residence purchased by the district.
Hawkins told News 8 that Niven tried to sell his home last year. The housing extra has been added to the other benefits the superintendent gets under his contract:
- $160,000 annual salary and performance bonuses
- $850 monthly automobile allowance
- $4,000 annual health and well-being benefit
- up to $7,000 per contract year for "professional growth "
- health insurance for Niven and his immediate family
- district business and travel expenses -- including other expenses
Even though no rules or laws were broken, the move to spend more than $250,000 on the property and leasing the home to Niven angered Keith Johnson, who operates the Web site Corrupt Red Oak ISD.
"This is not necessary," Johnson said. "We can get a superintendent in this district without lavishing them with their own residence."
Also fueling Johnson's frustrations,: Niven is expected to save hundreds of dollars by renting his home from the district for $550 a month. A pool, sewage, electricity, water, and Internet service are included in the payment.
"Everything the school district picks up for a flat $550 a month for him," Johnson said.
The district is also picking up the costs to fix the home that was built in the 1970s. It needs a major makeover.
News 8 obtained receipts detailing some of the renovations through an open records request. So far, more than $25,000 has been spent on projects including asbestos cleanup, a new security system, air conditioning units, painting and termite control — and the home isn't finished yet.
ROISD board member John Hawkins told us the residence is now a district asset, and that Niven deserves it. He credits the superintendent — who is a certified public accountant — with keeping the district on top during the state education budget crisis.
"We didn't cut any budgets," Hawkins said. "Our teachers got raises, and we put money back in our fund balance."
Some parents, like Aimee Stockton, support the superintendent's housing benefit.
"I think for us to be competitive and stay competitive, we are a relatively small town," Stockton said. "I think we should be able to give the perk to the superintendent."
But others believe it sends the wrong message.
"For a house, $550 a month? You can't even rent a place around here for less than $1,500," said ROISD parent Deanna Tiffany. "I don't think it's fair for taxpayers to be paying and footing the bill."
Niven is required to pay an initial security and cleaning deposit of $500. Guns may be allowed on the property, but alcohol is not permitted.
The Texas Association of School Boards recently conducted a study of salaries and wages in Texas public schools. About 75 percent of school districts participated in the association's survey, which found two school districts in North Texas — Walnut Bend ISD and Highland Park ISD — provide a home for their superintendents.
In Highland Park,, the cost of a home was the reason for the benefit. In Walnut Bend, it was the lack of housing.