The Oregon school board, after voting for raises last year for Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar and a dozen administrators at a time when busing for Clay High School students was eliminated, had reasoned that the pay hikes were needed to keep high quality individuals in the district.
The board last August had unanimously approved the raises for 12 administrators, with Zalar getting the biggest amount from $116,964 to $130,221 per year.
The raises sparked a firestorm of protest in the community, which had previously voted down school levies while the board made steep budget cuts and layoffs in the financially troubled district. Comments from a community survey of the district reported in The Press last week showed how much the raises had touched a nerve.
This month, The Press broke the news that Zalar had applied for the position of superintendent in the Gahanna-Jefferson schools district, near Columbus. Some on the Oregon school board said the argument for keeping Zalar in the district by giving him a raise last summer was apparently bogus, while others said they did not expect him to stay for very long anyway.
P.J. Kapfhammer and Jeff Ziviski, who were elected to the Oregon school board in November after campaigning against the raises, said that increasing salaries to maintain high quality individuals in the district is never a valid argument, particularly in a financially strapped district.
“The whole thing was, the board paid Zalar and the administrators to keep them in the district,” said Ziviski. “The whole argument just goes to show that it was falsely based. Money won’t keep people. Zalar got his money, he was happy for months, now he’s out there looking for another job. With the area’s high unemployment rate, we should not be overpaying to keep quality employees. Oregon schools offer a reasonable wage to its employees to work in this district and in return we expect them to give 100 percent to the job and making the district better. Zalar has a nice compensation package, and if that’s not enough, I wish him luck in future endeavors. If he stays, he has a job to do and hopefully he’ll work 100 percent to improve this district. Whether he stays or goes, we need someone who is dedicated and willing to make those hard decisions for the betterment of this district.”
School board president Dick Gabel, who voted in favor of the raises, said he is not disappointed Zalar has applied for a superintendent’s position in another district.
“He is trying to make his life better, I suppose. He is a good guy, and if they hire him, they will be lucky,” said Gabel. “I was surprised he went down there, but people move on for whatever reason. If the hire him, they will be getting a good superintendent.”
School board vice-president Diana Gadus, who also voted for the raises, said she was not surprised that Zalar applied for the position in the Gahanna-Jefferson school district.
“It is my understanding that the life expectancy of a superintendent is seven years, so I knew it was coming either now or within the next three years,” she said.
Gadus defended her vote, saying administrators’ salaries were lower than administrators in other school districts.
“We were looking for longevity, but our administrators’ salaries had to be brought up either way. We had to bring the administrators’ pay in line with the salaries of what other administrators were making in other districts and across the state. Our teachers at the time received raises and other benefits, too, and past practice is that administrators should get the same thing,” said Gadus.
Board member Carol Molnar also stood her ground.
“You always do what you think is best,” she said about her vote for the raises. “I think there is a longevity window for superintendents. After five to seven years, they just move on. It is not like it was back in the day.”
Zalar told The Press he had no comment.