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Friday, June 28, 2013

Board of Education debates salaries for school leaders

NASHUA – What started with a group of motions to hire new school administrators turned into a long debate among Board of Education members Wednesday over the rate of pay the district
offers its school leaders.

“People are losing their homes; we don’t have an economy out there that can support spending public money in this matter,” said board member Dennis Ryder. “We’re being far too liberal in these
salaries.” ...

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NASHUA – What started with a group of motions to hire new school administrators turned into a long debate among Board of Education members Wednesday over the rate of pay the district
offers its school leaders.

“People are losing their homes; we don’t have an economy out there that can support spending public money in this matter,” said board member Dennis Ryder. “We’re being far too liberal in these
salaries.”

But Superintendent Mark Conrad said that a survey of assistant principal and principal salaries done in the state a few years ago showed that Nashua’s administrator salaries fell in the middle of the pack, or toward the bottom.

It’s by no means the first time the board has debated salaries. Two board members in particular – Ryder and Sandra Ziehm – have questioned the salaries recommended for several administrators presented to the board over the last few months.

The board had similar debates last year while hiring new principals at four city schools, with salaries ranging from $87,500 for an elementary principal to $103,000 for a new high school principal.

Those debates prompted the creation of a salary scale for principals and assistant principals, to standardized the pay structure for the staff members and provide a clear plan for starting salaries and raises.

The pay scale also aims to ease a salary issue of a different kind: ensuring that elementary assistant principals earn more than some of the veteran teachers they supervise.

“Over time, that salary has been eroded,” Conrad said. “We’ve also been working to address that.”

The pay scale is still in the works one year later; however, and the debates have continued.

On Wednesday, Ziehm and Ryder argued that all personnel recommendations should be presented to the board as two motions: one to approve the individual, and a second to approve their salary. Their issues were not with the individuals hired, they said, but with the pay awarded. But others disagreed, saying that so much debate over a salary could put a dark cloud over the head of a new employee.

“If people believe we are overpaying our staff, I think someone should get together a motion that asks to reduce salaries, versus debating this one by one,” said board member Thomas Vaughn. “I think we’re all capable of doing this in a different way. We should have a conversation focused on the issue, not on these individuals.”

Board President Bob Hallowell said debating hires and salaries separately is simply inefficient, and argued against the idea that the district pays its administrators too much.

“I care about the taxpayer, but it’s not right to say we’re being too liberal and spending all this money,” he said.

Ziehm said the district cannot afford to lower class sizes and boost student achievement while paying administrators such salaries, pointing to Ian Atwell’s nomination to the Elm Street Middle School assistant principal position, which included a salary $30,000 higher than he made as a teacher.

While the assistant principals may be doing the same job, she said, some have more experience than others, and pay should be changed accordingly.

“I do think our classrooms suffer as a result of this spending,” she said. “These monies add up … It’s not about whether we’re saving money, it’s about whether we’re having good hiring practices.”

Still, data from the state Department of Education shows that, for the most part, Nashua’s salaries for teachers and administrators are in line with state averages.

Across the state, teachers earn an average of $54,314.

In Nashua, the average teacher salary is slightly higher, at $54,863. In the region, Litchfield, Hudson and Merrimack all pay teachers slightly less. But Hollis and Brookline, where average teacher pay is $57,432 and $57,853, respectively, pay more.

And Manchester, the state’s largest city and the community with demographics most similar to Nashua’s, pays teachers an average of more than $4,000 more, at $59,019.

The city’s top administrators also earn comparatively average salaries.

Under his new contract, which begins July 1, Conrad will earn about $140,000, moving up to $142,000 in the 2014-15 school year.

It’s the first major raise for the superintendent since he came to the district in 2009 at a starting salary of $135,000, making him the 12th highest-paid superintendent in the state, earning far below superintendents in Merrimack and Manchester.

The state does not provide data on principal or assistant principal salaries, but Conrad said the district does research of its own when hiring. The new salary scale for school administrators is expected to be finalized in the coming months and should provide an even better measure for determining adequate salaries, he said.

The assistant principals hired Wednesday received salaries based on the draft pay scale, and the new hires, including the new director of adult and community education, will save the district about $13,000 compared to its costs for the positions this school year.

Atwell will earn $80,000 next school year. Mike Fredericksen, the new
principal at the school, earned $87,811 as assistant principal in 2012.

The two elementary school assistant principals hired Wednesday, Jacqueline Okonak and Marie Alsup, will each earn $73,000. The employees who vacated those positions – Cherrie Fulton and Carol Ann Foley – earned $73,983 and $75,188, respectively.

Gina Bergskaug, hired as the new assistant principal at Nashua North, will take home $82,215, slightly less than the $82,756 Chris Motika took home in the position in 2012.

The board also approved Adam Rozumek, who served as assistant director of adult and community education this school year, to head the program next year, at a salary of $80,000, nearly $10,000 less than what Michelle Papanicolau was making in that position this year.

Conrad said he expects the salary discussions to continue in the coming months as the board works to finalize the pay scale for administrators, but that he’s hopeful the scale will help ease the debates in years to come.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Curtis
on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).