Bentonville may be the home base of low prices the Wal-Mart way, but thrift isn’t a priority for the folks who run the schools when it comes to football.
The district’s already building a new $9 million stadium and practice facility, which is scheduled to be ready in time for the 2005 season.
Then last week it bought what the district’s superintendent called the Lexus of football coaches — Barry Lunney Sr., formerly of Ft. Smith Southside — approving a salary of $89,000, plus another $240,000 or so for four assistant coaches he’s bringing with him.
“He has the best record in the state,” Superintendent Gary Compton said. “You have to pay for what you get.”
Lunney Sr. was the top choice of a selection committee that looked at more than 50 applications, Compton said. He’s getting a $14,000 pay raise to move, and his salary is $27,000 more than Bentonville’s previous head football coach. But four assistants Lunneny brought with him, including his son, Barry Lunney Jr., will be making exactly what they were paid in previous jobs, Compton said.
They are Robbie Jones, defensive coordinator, $62,000; offensive line coach Benji Mahan, $58,000; Lunney Jr., the offensive coordinator, $62,000, and Pollard, linebackers coach, $58,000. The younger Lunney, who’d been coaching in the college ranks, is not yet certified to teach, but will be certified by next year, Compton told the Morning News.
“It’s not so much that Bentonville decided to go over the top and back up the Brinks truck and give them a bank full of money,” Compton said.
Still, it’s a hefty investment in a single sport — with three other assistants who were already at Bentonville (a receivers coach, a defensive line coach and a running backs coach making from $41,281 to $61,887), salaries for the varsity football coaching staff alone will top $472,000 (two other assistant coaches handle the sophomore team). And you can increase the total by more than 20 percent to cover the district’s contribution to Social Security, teacher retirement and health insurance. That puts the cost over $560,000 for varsity football, not counting the sophomore coaches.
The picture of plenty this paints may not go down easy with legislators who so far have been less than willing to send state school-facilities money to relatively prosperous Northwest Arkansas districts. (Under the current proposal, Bentonville wouldn’t get much — more than Little Rock, but less than most districts.)
Compton defends the new coaches’ salaries as simply being in line with the district’s “three A’s” mission: academics, athletics and the arts. (The school district’s also building a multimillion-dollar performing arts facility.) Sports and other activities produce good students, he said.
Lunney and his staff will also have teaching duties for much of the school day (remedial math for one, P.E. and supervising dropout and suspension programs for others), and Compton pointed out that the football coaches will work 40 to 50 days more than the average teacher, so comparing salaries isn’t necessarily apples-to-apples. Teacher pay in Bentonville tops out at $56,284 — for an educator with a master’s degree plus 30 hours and 25 years’ experience.
(By way of comparison, a head football coach at a Little Rock high school could earn a maximum of $69,080 — a $4,480 coaching stipend, plus a 10-month teaching contract of $64,600 if he had the education and experience to reach the top of the teacher salary schedule.)
Still, Compton said, $89,000 for a top-tier football coach isn’t excessive, or even unusual, if all school districts were completely upfront about how much coaches get from private sources like booster clubs.
“The hours this person works, the public field in which they operate — it’s a unique position in any school district,” he said.
Compton also said the process of hiring a new football coach led him to realize all the stipends the district pays to teachers who coach or supervise after-school activities need to be increased.