The granting of $14,000 to $50,000 pay hikes to several state agency directors has created a public furor, but at least one agency head turned down his opportunity for a large raise.
Frank Wang, who is paid $75,000 a year to serve as president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, said he rejected his raise because of the adverse impact it likely would have on one or more of his employees.
A consultant had recommended a salary range of between $87,212 and $130,818 for his position.
“I just didn't think it was appropriate,” Wang said, noting that since 2009 the budget for his school has been cut from about $8 million to about $6 million and the number of employees has been trimmed from 76 to 57.
Wang said school officials were told that money for any pay increase would have to come from the school's existing budget.
“I told our finance guy that I would decline any increase because 70 percent of our expenditures are personnel and I would likely have to let someone go or reduce someone's work hours to get the pay increase,” he said.
The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics is a two-year public residential high school located in Oklahoma City. The school was created and funded by the Oklahoma legislature for students gifted in science and mathematics.
Wang is one of 99 state agency heads whose salaries were evaluated by the Hay Group in a study ordered by the Oklahoma Legislature and commissioned by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
The Hay Group surveyed executive salaries nationwide and established a recommended salary range for each state position. The study was released in September and governing boards of several state agencies recently have granted substantial pay increases to their directors.
The Oklahoman touched off a furor Tuesday when it reported that Tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass had been awarded a raise from $86,000 to $126,508; Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Director Stan Florence had been given a raise from $80,138 to $127,000; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner Terri White's salary had been increased from $133,455 to $173,318; state Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson's pay had been increased from $137,239 to about $151,000, and that newly appointed Secretary of State Chris Benge would be paid $140,000, which would be $50,000 more than his predecessor.
More than 80 readers submitted written comments on the article, with many using words like “outrageous,” “ridiculous,” and “shameful” to describe their feelings about the raises. The size and timing of the raises was particularly objectionable to some rank-and-file state employees who haven't had a raise in years and who were told they would have to await the results of an employee compensation study due to be released next month before they would be given consideration for a pay increase.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said the governor was notified Wednesday that the tourism executive director would not accept her raise until Jan. 1.
“My understanding is that it (the delay) was in order to let the second employee pay study be introduced,” Weintz said.
To whom much is given
Wang, who has a Ph.D. in math from MIT, said the process of rejecting his pay raise turned out to be a bit of an ordeal, because agency officials weren't sure that could be done.
Wang said he wound up calling an assistant attorney general who said his governing board would not have to give the raise if it determined the agency did not have the funds to pay the agency head within the pay range set for the job.
That procedure was followed.
“I am more than happy to decline the pay increase,” Wang said, adding that he was able to build up personal savings because of some high-paying jobs in the past, including serving as chief executive officer of Saxon Publishers, which is based in Norman.
“I got the type of obscene levels of pay that you read about in the papers,” he said.
Wang said he quit his job to pursue his lifelong passion for teaching and taught for free at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
“For me, it's just really about making a difference in some young people's lives,” he said.
Later, Wang said he accepted an invitation from University of Oklahoma President David Boren to teach at OU. Wang said he had to accept a modest stipend so he could be in the university's payroll system and get a parking pass, but donated his salary plus some to support OU libraries.
After jobs in other locations, Wang eventually accepted the job at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.
“I probably spend $20,000 a year buying supplies like markers for teachers,” he said.
Wang said that by rejecting his recent raise, he was in no way passing judgment on what other directors should do because he doesn't know their circumstances.
Wang, who has a wife and four children, said the decision to reject the raise was not unanimous within his own household.
“My wife was telling me, ‘Take the increase,'” he laughed.
Still, Wang is convinced turning down the raise was the right thing to do.
Hearkening back to his November 2012 inauguration speech to students at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, Wang recalled talking to them about their obligation to serve.
“To whom much is given, of him shall much be required,” Wang quoted from the Bible during that speech.
“I have been given much, and so from me much is required,” Wang told students that day.
By declining the pay raise, Wang is once again using his life to deliver that message.
I told our finance guy that I would decline any increase because 70 percent of our expenditures are personnel and I would likely have to let someone go or reduce someone's work hours to get the pay increase.”
president of the Oklahoma School