By Jason Massad

Ramona Tyson
Ramona Tyson

Interim DeKalb County schools Superintendent Ramona Tyson could receive a substantial pay increase when the DeKalb School Board meets Jan. 18, and the pay increase eventually could be a major boost to her pension through the state teachers’ retirement system.

Earlier this month, the DeKalb school board tentatively approved a deal for Tyson to receive a $238,000 salary, up from a current salary of $165,000. That’s a 44 percent increase.

The school board is required by state law to hold a final meeting on the pay raise at the Jan. 18 meeting because the district is experiencing work furloughs, according to school district officials. In 2010, the school district shed hundreds of jobs.

Tyson’s compensation is attached to an 18-month contract. Tyson, who took over as interim superintendent in February didn’t receive a raise at the time. She agreed to the salary she was making as deputy superintendent.

Board Chairman Tom Bowen, via e-mail, said that Tyson deserves the raise.

“The compensation matches exactly what would have been paid to the interim superintendent had the board known her role was going to be for the duration it has become,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the major pay increase could affect Tyson’s pension down the line.

A teacher or administrator in the district receives a pension upon retirement that’s largely determined by the two highest consecutive years of salary earned by that employee.

The potential jump in salary for Tyson, who has served the district 23 years, could increase her pension by tens of thousands of dollars every year after she retires.

District spokesman Jeff Dickerson said, “Ms. Tyson is unaware of the pension implications of the salary adjustment.”

Tyson couldn’t receive the increase in pension if she retired right away, said Jeffrey Ezell, executive director of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

Caps have been in place for teachers and administrators who started their service after July 1, 1984, that prevent employees from cashing in on end-of-career pay spikes that would artificially inflate their pensions.

Tyson originally enrolled in the retirement system in 1987, said Jamie Wilson, human resources director for the district.

If Tyson continues employment within any school district that participates in the state’s retirement system, the pay raise she could receive with DeKalb schools could elevate her pension by tens of thousands of dollars because it could serve as a base for her two highest paid years.

“Given how I think this works, the teachers retirement system will give her a significant bump, even if it’s five years from now. She will get it in the future,” said Nancy Jester, school-board-member-elect for District 1. She said Tyson has been doing a good job. However, she noted former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, now under criminal indictment related to corruption in the district, took years to earn the salary proposed for Tyson.

“I applaud her for her effort and the work she’s done,” Jester said. “But we’ve got teachers in this district stocking their own classrooms with basic needs. We can’t reward all of them to the extent we are trying to compensate her.”