This SLO County school superintendent just got a hefty raise. Here’s why

Several community members were at the Jan. 12 Cayucos Elementary School District Board of Trustees meeting to express their unhappiness with Superintendent Scott Smith’s performance. The school board approved in a 4-1 vote to raise Smith’s salary by 10%, which the district shares with Coast Unified School District.
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A superintendent of two San Luis Obispo County school districts has received a substantial bump in pay even after several community members protested and demanded a better review of his duties and job performance.

Scott Smith, who leads the Cayucos Elementary and Coast Unified school districts along the northern coast of the county, will receive a 10% salary increase after both districts’ school boards approved a revised contract.

Smith has received other pay increases during his tenure as superintendent for the two small school districts, but this is his largest to date. Smith told The Tribune that he did not request the pay raise, but rather the two school boards brought it forward.

“At the end of the day, this is a vote of confidence by the board,” said Chris Castillo, a Cayucos Elementary School District board member who brought forward the proposal to give Smith a raise. “We feel he’s doing a good job and want to make sure he stays.”

Smith is now paid a total of $220,085 annually.

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, he was paid $200,077, according to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. That’s a 3% bump from his pay at the start of the 2020-21 school year, which was $194,250, the county office of education said.

And the year before that, during the 2019-20 school year, Smith was paid $185,000, according to the county office of education.

Before then — when Smith was the superintendent of just Cayucos Elementary School District — he was paid $150,255.

Smith also receives $55 monthly for a cellphone stipend.

His salary is paid equally between the two school districts. So, Cayucos Elementary and Coast Unified will each pay $110,042.50 to Smith for his superintendent responsibilities.

Although the 50/50 salary split between the two districts seems like “an unusual situation” given Coast Unified is more than three times the size of Cayucos Elementary, it ensures he doesn’t favor his time to one district or the other, Smith said.

“I have staff that do a lot of things at Coast Unified that I have to do myself at Cayucos,” he said. “They’re different jobs: One (Coast Unified) is more managing other people, consulting with them. Cayucos is more doing stuff myself because I am the whole district office there.”

Cayucos is a one-school, kindergarten through eighth grade district with about 162 students. Coast Unified has one elementary school, a middle school and two high schools with a total of about 536 students, according to data from the California Department of Education.

Community members protest superintendent pay raise, ask for end to dual contract

Smith’s salary bump didn’t come without any controversy, however.

Several Cayucos community members showed up to the elementary school district’s board of education meeting Wednesday evening to express their displeasure in Smith’s recent performance as superintendent.

Several said Smith had intimidated and harassed people at school board meetings and in school who wore masks to protect them from spreading or being infected by COVID-19. They alleged that he contributed to an unsafe working environment at some of the districts’ schools by not more strictly enforcing the California Department of Public Health’s indoor mask mandate.

Some also reminded the board of what they characterized as unprofessional outbursts by Smith — especially one where he allegedly falsely accused a former Cayucos Elementary School staff member of insulting a special education student at a school board meeting in the fall.

“I’d like you to consider: does Mr. Smith’s leadership foster an environment of employee trust, inspiration and collaboration?” Cayucos Elementary School parent Erika Torres asked during public comment at the Wednesday board meeting. “Or does it instill fear of retaliation and contribute to sagging morale currently being reported by staff?”

Some of those who spoke against Smith’s pay raise noted that they want to end the shared services agreement between the two small school districts. Instead, they proposed Cayucos have its own superintendent, as it’s had in the past.

“The current controversy surrounding the proposed ill-timed pay increase for our superintendent should cause us all to wonder if there are better solutions on how to handle administrative duties here,” said Susan Mathias, a former teacher at Cayucos Elementary for more than 30 years, during Wednesday evening’s board meeting.

Mathias said having one official be the superintendent and principal at Cayucos Elementary may make more sense financially. The school also does not currently have an assistant principal, which Mathias proposed would be a less-expensive position that would assist the superintendent-principal and could have teaching duties.

“This sounds much more promising to me than having a part-timer who sets his own hours and his own agenda,” Mathias said. “I think it’s time we all think outside this box we’ve put ourselves in and do something to promote education rather than administration.”

However, the two districts’ school boards did not appear to be considering any other options for Smith’s position at this time.

His shared services contract expires in 2024. If it is not renewed by both districts, he will revert to being the superintendent of just the Cayucos Elementary School District.

Smith said those unhappy with his performance and angry about the pay raise “can judge (him) anyway,” but that he will continue doing his job.

“Taking districts through COVID makes for a lot of difficult decisions along the way. Some of them, unfortunately, have become controversial,” he said. “I just want to keep serving the kids and serving the parents when possible.”

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