Dr. Mike Zalar, superintendent of the Oregon City Schools District, has returned the raise he received last year.
Zalar, at a special board meeting on Wednesday, presented a resolution that rescinded the $11,000 pay hike, which had touched off a firestorm of controversy in the community when the board had approved it last summer.
The special board meeting was held to update the public on the district’s finances.
Zalar’s introduction of the resolution came as a surprise to both the school board and the approximately 150 people in attendance.
“This has been a challenging year for me both personally and professionally,” Zalar said. “I take responsibility for the raise I received at a time when other cuts were being made and I apologize for that. I pledge to not let that happen again.”
The board last August had unanimously approved the raises for 12 administrators, with Zalar getting the biggest amount from $119,094 to 130,220 per year.
The raises sparked considerable protest in the community, particularly after the board had eliminated busing for Clay High School students in the financially troubled district. Comments from a community survey of the district reported in The Press in May showed how much the raises had touched a nerve.
Zalar said he was bringing the resolution to the board voluntarily and that he and his wife agreed about giving back the raise.
“This resolution is to have my salary reduced prior to the increase I received last year,” Zalar said. “I am glad to do this. I spoke with my wife about this and we know it is in the best interest of the district.”
Some members of the board last year said they had approved the raise for Zalar to keep him in the district.
The Press broke the news two months ago that Zalar had applied for the position of superintendent in the Gahanna-Jefferson schools district, near Columbus. Some on the school board said the argument for keeping Zalar in the district by giving him the raise was apparently bogus, while others said they did not expect him to stay for very long anyway. The Gahanna-Jefferson school board, which had chosen Zalar as one of two finalists for the position, hired the other candidate.
“This will take the huge elephant out of the room,” Zalar said. “For the past four years, there has been a lot of hard work and sacrifice. You did not see us on the ballot this spring and you probably won’t in the near future. By working together we are going to be one of the leading, premier educational institutions in the state.”
The school board accepted and passed the resolution.
P.J. Kapfhammer, who became president of the school board last week, said giving back the raise was the right thing to do.
“Thank you for being that leader we need right now,” said Kapfhammer, who was elected to the board last November after campaigning against the raises.
Kapfhammer, who became president after former president Dick Gabel, a loyal supporter of Zalar, resigned from the board due to health reasons, said after the meeting that he has a new found respect for the superintendent.
“It was a great positive first move that will start improving our relationship with the community,” said Kapfhammer, who has previously expressed doubts that voters would pass a levy with Zalar at the helm.
“[Zalar] tried to give it back the first week he got the raise, but some people on the board did not want that to happen. He knew it would destroy the district and the community. I think we found our leader. I think he is back. I will now call him Dr. Zalar. He earned that respect from me tonight.”