Out of Touch With Reality
So the system has another new senior staff person on board. Dr. Barbara J. Cooper will be starting in October as the new Deputy Superintendent. She’s working out her notice in Aurora, Colorado and planning her move. Yes, she is officially now the third person Huntsville City Schools has hired from the Aurora School District. Dr. Wardynski joked that the superintendent in Aurora, Colorado was “pretty unhappy with me.” (There was a lot of joking going on, on Thursday. More on that below.)
The top three officers of our school system all came from Aurora. The top three officers of our school system are earning just shy of half a million dollars. Plus bonuses.
The deputy superintendent salary is particularly interesting. According to the Huntsville Times the salary will be $141,600. The board did not ask and the superintendent did not offer any information on the salary Thursday night. If that number seems strange to you it could be because it is $7,054.74 above the maximum salary when the job was posted last month. The salary for the deputy superintendent was posted as ranging from $84,217.06 – $134,545.26. I was convinced that the salary would be at the upper end of the scale (as the CSFO was earning $130,000), but not even I would have thought the board would approve a seven thousand dollar raise even before the position is filled!
Let me make something clear. The salary range for a job posting is indicative of experience. It is almost unheard of for anyone to be offered a salary above the posted maximum. We should know why this salary is $7,054.74 above the posted maximum.
We are now paying $446,600 to the Superintendent, his Deputy, and his CSFO. Plus bonuses.
So, we can’t pay teachers a competitive salary. (They make the state minimum.) We can’t hire enough Occupational Therapists to meet the requirements of IEPs. (When we have vacancies, as we do now, no one wants the position because of the minimal salary and impossible work-load.) We can’t offer teachers the STEP raise that was a part of their contract. (All STEP raises have been frozen, but bonuses for the top three have not.) But we can pay half a million to three people. We can give a raise of seven grand (or 5%) to the deputy superintendent before the position is even filled.
While I’m pleased that Dr. Wardynski and the board has finally hired someone with classroom experience to be a part of the system’s primary leadership team, I can’t imagine what the deputy superintendent was able to do before even starting that warranted a 5% raise.
The board and the superintendent are completely out of touch with reality.
They are surprised that offering the superintendent a salary $55,000 over the minimum (when he had 11 months experience) raised any questions at all. (Birney stated that the $175k was “no issue for the board.”)
They are surprised and offended when I questioned offering even a “state-competitive” salary to our CSFO. (A salary that was at least competitive in two states.)
They are politically savvy enough to know that talking about a $141,600 salary, that includes a $7,000 raise before the position is even filled, might cause an uproar. So they avoided talking about it. The Board asked not one public question about the raise.
It seems that the financial crisis is only a crisis for our principals, teachers, staff, and aides. It’s only a crisis for those who work directly with our kids, for those who take their own time at the end of a busy week just to hang out with our kids.
Does This Seem Funny To You?
While the board claimed that they were torn up by having to fire 413 people, five months later it has seemingly turned into something of a joke.
During the discussion of the impending staffing crises that will happen in December (due to the State cutting teachers’ pay by $2,600), Dr. Robinson asked Dr. Wardynski a question:
Robinson: “Are you going to use exit interviews with the teachers who leave to find out why they’re leaving the system?”
Wardynski: “Our system? Uh, yeah. If they’re not exiting because we helped them.”
This exchange was followed by laughter.
You may watch the exchange below.
Now, it’s possible that the laughter was just an example of gallows humor. You know, like whistling past a grave yard when you’re the ones who dug the graves. But it is truly hard to imagine anything being less funny to the 413 people who were RIFed. It is truly hard to imagine anything being less funny to those of us who are still dealing with the consequences of those decisions.
The board and the superintendent are out of touch with reality on the ground in our school system.
The exit interviews aren’t really necessary. We already know why our teachers/staff are leaving. The reality is that they are overworked. They are underpaid. They are unappreciated by management. Our teachers, our instructional assistants, our staff, and our therapists are leaving right now because of decisions similar to giving a person a raise who hasn’t even started yet.
They’re leaving because the superintendent and the board are putting administration’s needs above the needs of our students. I was arguing on Thursday that the administration should not receive bonuses until teachers do. I assumed that we would need to wait until at least May to find out if they were listening. I was wrong.
Now we’re giving bonuses before people even start. So long as those people aren’t working directly with students.
And that’s the problem with being out of touch. It’s far to easy to forget that the decisions being made are impacting real people. It’s far too easy to forget that our students are still paying for those decisions.
If our new teachers/staff are being paid the state minimum, if all of our teachers/staff are struggling to make ends meet, if all of our teachers/staff are struggling to do their jobs to the best of their ability despite being horribly overworked, our administration and our board should be struggling, too.
What You Can Do
- Contact your board member, and insist that all discussion of raises/bonuses cease until everyone is eligible for a raise or bonus. As a good friend pointed out, a salary freeze is a salary freeze for everyone.
- Go to the board meetings. The board meets every first and third Thursday of the month at 5:30pm. You cannot get a feel for what these meetings are like via the ETV broadcasts (or my tweets). Watch them for yourself. Make up your own mind about the direction the superintendent and the board are taking our system.
- Insist that the board do their job of supervising the superintendent. He is not the President, and the central office positions are not Cabinet Positions. These people work for us, not him. Mr. Spinelli is a nice man, and although I would prefer him to have had more experience in education, I believe him to be qualified for the CSFO position. (I’m not sufficiently qualified to judge.) I am likewise pleased that Dr. Cooper has extensive classroom experience. But the top three people in the Huntsville City School system have all come from Aurora, Colorado. How likely do you think Mr. Spinelli or Dr. Cooper will be to stand up to their boss? Since we are regularly conducting nation-wide searches for personnel, the board must insist that we hire the best people available, and not just the best people who already know Dr. Wardynski.
- Finally, get involved in your schools. Join the PTA. (Our PTAs are amazingly inclusive of everyone–including special needs kids.) Donate your time. Contribute to the schools as you are able. (Printer Ink is always in short supply as is paper. Ask a teacher if you can purchase either for him or her. Not to be too rude, but I doubt that Dr. Wardynski ever has to purchase his own printer ink or paper. Our teachers, on the other hand, almost always buy their own.)
It’s hard to see the humor in the situation when you know that the education of all of our kids is suffering because of the decisions of a few. We can change that by paying attention.
Dad, hubby and irritator of students and school boards alike, Russell Winn is committed to ensuring that the Huntsville City Schools provide access to the educational support system for every student. When he's not enforcing grammar rules or arguing the ethical minutia of Kant's deontology, he spends his time loving his kids, reading anything by Stephen King or Christopher Moore, and attempting to speak truth to power on behalf of special needs kids. You may follow his rants at www.geekpalaver.com or on twitter at @russwinn.
Not to mention that the cost of living in Huntsville is about 11.5% LOWER than that of Aurora, CO.