Many parents attending a school board meeting last Tuesday were critical of the board’s approval of pay hikes for 12 administrators in the Oregon City Schools District.
The board had approved raises for 12 administrators at an August 16 meeting. Superintendent Mike Zalar received the biggest raise, from $116,965 to $130,221.
Many in the packed audience pointed out that the school board had eliminated busing for Clay High School students and had closed Wynn Elementary School this year to cut costs as the result of a shrinking budget that is expected to get smaller in the coming years.
“I am here to ask the administrators to please give back those raises,” said P.J. Kapfhammer, who is running for a seat on the board. “I understand the logistics of it. I understand the numbers. I’m asking the leaders of the school to give back the raises and put it toward busing, or programming, or something that got stripped in the last couple of years. Lead this district. Turn this negative into a positive. I’m asking that they think before they take these raises.”
Paula Giovanoli, of Corduroy Road, was concerned about the elimination of busing for high school students.
“I’m questioning the board’s plans on reinstating busing. Kids wait for hours for parents to pick them up. I’m a little disappointed that raises were given to administrators before we reinstate busing for children,” said Giovanoli, to a burst of applause from the audience.
Earl John Gilliland, Jr., a candidate for the school board, criticized the board for approving the raises.
“A biblical phrase keeps coming to mind, `Forgive them, for they know not what they have done,’” said Gilliland, a former administrator with the district. “And that’s my fear for what you folks have done to our school system with these administrative raises. I’m not here to hurt any employee. I’m not here to hurt anyone. But I’m carrying a message I’ve constantly run into, especially in the last two days. I’ve had people call me. I’ve had people question me. And I think you folks owe it to our public to either do what Mr. Kapfhammer just indicated, or if you’re not going to do that, I think you have to step up and be held accountable and give answers. I think you folks probably have those answers. How could we afford any raises? We cut bussing. We have parents who can’t get kids to school. Why did the superintendent get a $13,000 raise? Explain it to us. Was it performance related? Was it a promise made when he came to the superintendent position years ago? If it was, let’s be transparent. At this point, the people in the community feel you’re not being transparent, they feel you’re being opaque?”
Mike Wegrzyn, or Heritage Lane, wanted to know how the funds became available in a district that has failed to get a levy passed in the last few years.
“Why does the district now have these funds? So we really didn’t need a levy. Or we certainly don’t need another one. Why spend this money, if we have it, right away? Why not wait a year and see if something happens and we might really need it? Why not restore busing first? This is a safety issue. We got kids walking to school on busy roads. That’s not good,” he said. “The board put raises ahead of our children’s safety. The board showed us the truth of what they believe in. I believe that’s greed, money, tax levies – not our children. It should be spent on our kids – something for them. I think [administrators] should give the raises back voluntarily or at least ask the board to revote on it. Something should be done.”
Paul Drake III said the raises “are a sign of arrogance.”
“I agree with P.J. Hopefully, you will rescind that. I think it’s appalling. Now is not the time for it. Everyone knows the economy now is terrible,” he said. “I was here when you cut the busing. You just cut it out. It was totally wrong.”
School board candidate Jeff Ziviski said the school board has broken a trust with the public by giving raises
“I’ve been on the other side of the board. It is tough to make those decisions. Over the last several years, it’s all been financial. Educational programs are being cut for our children. Now every single decision that’s made is being scrutinized,” said Ziviski. “Programs are being cut. With that is a lack of trust and transparency that comes with that. That’s why everyone is here today. There’s not a lot of trust when you’re cutting programs and giving raises. I’ve knocked on probably a thousand doors in the last couple of weeks. We have multiple meetings per month. The perception is, the board is lining its pockets. When you have [meetings] at a time of day when people can’t attend, the perception is and you’re hiding things. When you cut educational programs and give raises, the perception is, if the money is there, why aren’t the programs. This can be alleviated if we can get back to building the trust with the community. They just need a little bit more trust and transparency coming from the other side.”
Need for levy
School Board President Eric Heintschel said the board understands the public’s sentiment.
“This has been a process, a long process,” he said. “I’ve been on the board for almost four years. And we’ve been cutting for almost four years. Step one of the process, when this board stepped in here, was to get our financial house in order and for the last three years, we’ve done that. Everyone shares the burden - teachers, faculty, administration. God knows. our kids and people in the community – we’ve all shared in the burden of these cuts over the last three years. We got the school district’s financial situation in line. If you look at our five year forecast, we’re good through 2014, so we’ve gotten our financial house in order.”
The next step was to get the teachers’ contract renewed, said Heintschel. The teachers signed a three year contract, he added, which included a “zero percent raise.” Still, the teachers will receive “step” increases in each year, which raises their salaries, he said.
“Those steps will cost the school district $400,000 over the next three years,” said Heintschel.
Next, the school board addressed raises for administrators, he added.
“The administrative cost increase of the district is $43,000 for the first year, and $14,000 for each of the next two years,” he said.
“The next step now is to start looking at programs and things in the school district that we need to start bringing back. Now that we have the financial house in order, taking care of the most important thing in this district is the education of our kids. I understand safety is also important. It’s something we’ll look at. But the education of our kids is the most important thing. And we did that by renewing the teachers’ contract. Then we took care of the leaders of the school district. Now that we’ve gone through this, we look forward to start working together with the community. We do need to get positive energy back into this community. We got the financial house in order. Now we’re going to start taking a look at what we need to do next. There’s going to be things like busing, programming. There’s going to be a need for a levy in the next couple of years. We can’t control what happens in the state with the financial situation in the district. But we need to continuously improve what we’re doing here in Oregon schools.”
Heintschel said the administrators could voluntarily give back their raises, but it would have to be their decision.