Michael Cowan

Mike Cowan

Mesa schools Superintendent Mike Cowan has a new three-year contract that includes a state-mandated pay-for-performance piece.

If he meets the goals set forth, Cowan, whose base salary is $180,000 annually, could pocket an additional $10,800. But the superintendent says even if he does earn it, he won’t keep the extra cash.

Instead, he’ll turn it down or donate it to the Mesa Unified School District’s education foundation. In fact, the last page of his contract includes a signed agreement to state that.

“I have no intention of taking more money,” said Cowan, whose new contract was approved by the governing board Tuesday.

Cowan was hired to replace Debra Duvall in 2009, moving up from his then-position as associate superintendent in Mesa Unified, the state’s largest school district, currently with 64,000 students.

During the three years of his tenure at the top, the district has closed schools and cut more than $60 million in budget, while also increasing availability of popular programs.

Cowan’s base salary for his new contract remains the same at $180,000 annually. The potential for additional money through performance pay is the result of a law enacted two years ago requiring superintendent contracts to include performance-based compensation when existing contracts come up for renewal or when new ones are created.

The Mesa governing board created a 6 percent — or $10,800 — maximum Cowan could earn under the plan written into his new contract. But the contract also states — as per Cowan’s request — that should he earn that money based on the performance-based compensation plan, he would either turn it down or donate it to the foundation.

The 6 percent figure was used because that is equivalent to the district’s employee incentive plan. Cowan’s contract also allows him to receive district incentive payments, but Cowan said he has never requested, nor received, additional funds.

It’s not the first time an East Valley superintendent has turned down money. In 2009, Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Camille Casteel made a similar move. She was set to receive more than $8,600 in pay increase as per her contract. But she donated that money to the Chandler Education Foundation.

Very little else changes in Cowan’s new contract. Some words were changed to align with what other superintendent contracts in the state read, he said.

The contract starts July 1 and is set to expire June 30, 2015.

East Valley school districts are all on different schedules for renewal of their superintendent contracts. A sampling of their salaries:

• Gilbert Unified School District’s Dave Allison is paid $155,000 annually. The district has about 37,000 students.

• Chandler Unified School District’s Camille Casteel is paid $153,220 annually. The district has about 39,000 students.

• Higley Unified School District’s Denise Birdwell is paid $140,000 annually. The district has about 10,500 students.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

(1) comment


Mike Cowan, you are a genuinely nice person. I'm serious about that.

Your turning down the $10.8K is a nice gesture, but that is about what teachers have lost in the past three to four years with no raises due to the economic situation and the legislature's targeting and slash and burn funding of education these last few years.

I am sure you're fine on your $180K per year, which was, indeed, a raise over Duvall's income to bring you to "parity" with what superintendents make. Turning down THAT raise might have been a nicer gesture.

No harm or ill will to you, my friend whose father's toolbox was so heavy that you'd pursue an education--just like many of us who worked our fingers to the bone to advance in a system such as MPS, where the leadership is not what it should be, and not an equal opportunity experience.

No one else comments on things MPS or the "saviour" at Carson--but the wunderkind's hiring cannot make up for the lack of leadership MPS has demonstrated for the past decade. Go figure.

Check out how the Quartzite principal was forced to resign for his indescretionas. You might take a few pointers from that--instead of moving your lousy leaders around on the chessboard that is MPS, its teachers its pawns.

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