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School administrator raises raise a ruckus

Medford School Board members appear unanimous in their concern over recently announced pay raises for administrators and equally concerned that they have no control over the decision — with one describing the process as "shocking."

The board discussed the issue Monday, following Superintendent Phil Long's announcement in August of 6.5 percent raises for the district's highest-paid employee group. The increase, which is retroactive to July 1, affects 35 administrators, whose salaries after the raises range from $83,706 for a Hedrick Middle School assistant principal to $119,218 for the director of human resources.

Board member Paulie Brading said that after the district announced plans for the new compensation plan for administrators, managers and confidential staff, board members searched for a board policy that would allow them to be involved in approving the contract changes, but realized none existed.

Nearly every board member at Monday night's meeting expressed concern over the raises and when the district chose to announce them, with several noting the district is facing difficult financial issues.

"It caused a tremendous amount of unrest," said board member Kim Wallan.

Although the board is asked to approve new contracts for teachers and classified employees, it doesn't have a protocol for administrator and confidential employee contracts and hasn't been asked to approve those contracts in the past, Brading said.

Brading said the decision to increase compensation for administrators was troubling, considering the district is deadlocked in negotiations with classified staff and class sizes are large.

"The money set aside for administrators could be used for lowering class sizes," said Brading. "The process that this followed was shocking."

The district is waiting to begin mediation with classified staff following months of bargaining that failed to produce a new contract.

At the end of Monday's meeting, board member Marlene Yesquen expressed her disappointment in the timing of the pay increases and the way they were announced to the public.

"I personally feel this action was taken by the superintendent without adequate notice to the board," said Yesquen. "The district cannot afford the salary increases and any bonuses or stipends. We are running schools without the necessary basic equipment — without enough desks, books, elbow room and health providers."

Yesquen said it didn't make sense that Long should set the compensation rate for a group of employees he works closely with, while all other contracts are approved by the School Board. She suggested creating a policy that would require board oversight on future contract changes for administration, managers and confidential employees.

The district announced its plan to increase pay for administrators, managers and confidential staff by 4.5 percent in late August, and to offer a one-time 2 percent stipend on top of that.

Nearly a month later, district administration announced the group also would take on a new health insurance plan that would cost more for employees and potentially save the district millions of dollars in the future.

The new compensation plan will cost the district about $184,000 for the first year and $107,000 each year in the future, according to Chief Financial Officer Brad Earl.

The new plan for administrators was created because a previous contract expired June 30. The increase in compensation was first reflected on Oct. 1 payroll statements, with the salary increase retroactive to July 1, according to Earl. The pay hike does not affect Long's $136,382 salary, which can be increased only by a vote of the board.

The board was asked during its Sept. 17 meeting to approve a budget adjustment of about $185,000 to cover the raises.

The board postponed the adjustment, which Earl said he would bring up again in a November meeting. Earl said he typically brings several budget adjustments to the board each year, which can reflect things such as staffing changes and health insurance costs.

Although nearly every board member agreed with Yesquen about the timing of the raises, some questioned whether it would be appropriate for the board to step in when dealing with compensation changes for the administration.

"Obviously it's not a negotiation, Phil's the boss," said board Chairman Jeff Thomas. "But I'm in favor of having the policy committee look at this."

Long said he would look to the Oregon School Boards Association to find out whether a sample policy similar to what the board was discussing already existed.

A representative from the OSBA said no sample policy does exist, but that practices for how this type of compensation change is handled vary between districts.

The board decided to send the matter to the three board members who sit on the board policy committee, who would then determine whether a policy could be created.