Charter school leader Eric Mahmoud’s combined salary is $273,000, well above the $190,000 earned by Minneapolis schools chief Bernadeia Johnson and any other public school superintendent in Minnesota.
Yet the state Department of Education said its defers to charter boards on compensation, and Mahmoud’s supporters say they don’t see anything improper about his pay.
Few would dispute Mahmoud’s work ethic. “There has never been a moment of any day when I have not found Eric in some way working for these schools,” said Craig Kepler a lawyer who does work for Mahmoud. “Midnight, 6:00 a.m., weekends, Eric’s every moment is invested in some way into these schools. He earns every penny of his salary, many times over.”
But Mahmoud’s paycheck does raise eyebrows in some corners of the education establishment.
“When the public is funding these schools, they’re expecting that those dollars are going to directly impact the students,” said Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, who called Mahmoud’s salary “extremely hard to justify.”
Tony Scallon, a retired charter school superintendent, who supervised three times as many students, was even more blunt when told about Mahmoud's compensation:: “You’re kidding. Oh my God.”
Supporter Louis King, a former Minneapolis board member who sits on the board of Mahmoud’s new school, said he doesn’t care how much Mahmoud is paid. That’s because Mahmoud gets high test scores that far outpace the district’s North Side schools with similar demographics.
Mahmoud, who this month is opening his third charter school on Olson Hwy., earns $155,000 as director of Best Academy, a three-schools-in-one charter, and $118,000 as president of SEED Daycare, which is the landlord for the schools and also sells them administrative services. The figures were dug out of federal tax filings for nonprofits and updated by Mahmoud.
The Mahmoud family comprised three of SEED’s four board members in 2009-2010, and drew a total of $297,000 from that entity alone, the tax filings show. Mahmoud was listed as president at $163,500 annually, wife Ella was listed as secretary at $105,000, and daughter Lakesha Mahmoud-Hunter was paid $28,681 for as an administrative aide. Those figures didn't include Mahmoud’s $118,000 salary from Best.
Mahmoud said in an e-mail that his pay is within the salary ranges for the separate jobs. A check of his source finds that the lower of his two salaries is still near the high end of metro area charter school administrators, although non-licensed charter administrators such as Mahmoud don’t show up on that list.
Mahmoud also referenced a salary survey by Charity Navigator for comparable figures for his SEED salary, which combines multiple duties. But footnotes indicate that survey excludes nonprofits such as charters that derive most of their support from the government, as SEED does indirectly through payments from Mahmoud’s tax-supported charter schools.
Mahmoud is paid far more than any superintendent in Minnesota, said Charlie Kyte, an expert on superintendent compensation who said that the highest pay packages approach only $200,000 with salary, expenses and retirement match.
Mahmoud also used a small business publication’s guide that a person overseeing a budget of more than $10 million should be compensated at 1-2.5 percent of budget. Mahmoud’s pay would be 2.2 percent if his schools and their management company were combined.
“He’s doing some really great things, but whenever people see this, they say, ‘Wait a minute. These are taxpayer dollars,’ said former legislator Kathy Saltzman, who sponsored charter school legislation.
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