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Medford school leaders receive pay hike

Administrators in the Medford School District will get a 4.5 percent salary increase and a one-time, 2 percent stipend this fiscal year, the district announced Thursday.

That puts Superintendent Phil Long's salary at $145,247, an $8,865 increase over last fiscal year. Other administrators' salaries for 2012-13 range from $83,706 for a Hedrick Middle School assistant principal to $119,218 for the director of human resources.

The raises apply to managers and "confidential" staff (those who handle confidential information).

Long did not immediately release specific numbers on how much the increases would cost the district. Based on a list of administrator salaries provided by the district in May 2011, the raises and stipends will cost the district $219,307 for administrators alone.

That number does not take into account any step increases, which Long said would be awarded to those who qualify.

The 2 percent stipend, which totals $67,483 for administrators, will be funded through $1.2 million extra in state support received last spring because of increased enrollment in the district, Long said.

The cost of the 4.5 percent salary raises, which totals $151,824 for administrators, will be offset by savings garnered from the non-union staff paying more for their health insurance premiums or taking a higher deductible.

"The plan will keep overall costs for these employees relatively flat for the coming year and will help to significantly reduce the cost of employee benefits in the future," Long said in a press release.

For the first time, Long said, the district will vary the amount it pays for health insurance premiums, based on the size of the family and the amount of the deductible — $500, $1,000 or $1,500 — that the employee chooses to pay.

Employees who choose the highest deductible won't pay any premiums. Those with lower deductibles will pay more for their premiums. A $500 deductible will mean premium costs of $250 a month, he said.

"This allows employees to maintain health savings accounts," Long said. "And it's a way for employees to participate more directly in cost-sharing so they'll have skin in the game and be better about cost-containment and be better health-care shoppers."

The plan represents the first COLA for non-union staff since the 2008-09 biennium, Long said. Last year, all employees took an 8 percent pay cut to balance the budget and prevent a reduction in school days.

The non-union staff will continue to pay their 6 percent contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Although the plan has a "flat" impact on the $108 million annual budget, the savings will compound over time, Long said.

In his release, Long lauded "the willingness of this employee group to lead the way on the tough issues of insurance and early retirement costs. ... They recognize that it is not realistic to expect salary increases in the future unless the district first takes steps to contain the cost of employee benefits."

In a move to curb the growth of the $4 million the district spends annually on post-employment benefits, the plan calls for fixing early retirement benefits in advance rather than tying them to the district's insurance premiums as they are now. Those terms will be determined by the end of the year.

Stipends and COLAs for 2013-14 will be determined next year, Long said.

The plan for 2012-13 was created because the previous employee agreement expired June 30. With the pay hikes, which are retroactive to July 1, there are 32 administrators making more than $90,000 a year. Before the increases, there were 17 such administrators.

New health insurance deductibles will go into effect Oct. 1.

Citing many financial challenges over the last decade, Long said, "This new plan continues our progress in a way that recognizes the skill and hard work of employees while protecting funds for the classroom."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.