I am very disappointed that our outgoing board of education has decided to grant an across the board 5 1/4 percent salary increase for some of our administrators as one of its final acts before it left office. By doing so, I think that they have ignored the voice of the electorate. From the limited due diligence that I have done, it appears that most other school districts award salary increases in the 3 to 3 1/2 percent range. Further, I thought that we were supposed to expect excellence from our school district and our staff, and that is why we pay them so well in the first place. Thus, it seems that yearly salary increases are not based upon any reasonable factor or merit, and usually meet with little board opposition for accountability. My opinion is that the most important factor in a successful school district is having well qualified and supported teachers in the front of every classroom. In my opinion, the teachers' contract should be the benchmark for the entire district. I think that by giving administrators, directors, principals and other personnel a 5 1/4 percent increase sends the wrong message - particularly in light of the fact that we have a teacher's contract which is set to expire.
Some make the argument that our staff is underpaid, relative to a few other districts. True our staff might not be the highest paid, but we also have about 20 administrators making over $100,000. Yes there might be five or ten comparable personnel from other districts that make more money than their counterparts in Port Washington. But last time I looked there were 126 school districts on Long Island, and our staff is certainly better compensated than most. That brings us to the following question: Do we even want the reputation of being the highest paying district on Long Island? I don't think we do. And I don't think our community is willing to take on that financial burden either, as evidenced by our last few referendums. The critics will argue that "the voters don't support education anymore." Well I don't think that is it. "I think the voters just don't support waste - they want true service and value for their money." Based upon our current salary structure, I don't think we always have to be in the top 5 or 10 percent for every position.
Our board also awarded salary increases to two employees who will be leaving the district in the next 30 days. Since they have already given us notice, I do not understand the logic of giving out pay raises to employees who are leaving. True, sometimes public companies do give out sweetheart deals right before an employee retires or takes another job. Usually these companies try to bury that information somewhere in the fine print section of the Annual Report because the stockholders will typically scream like crazy when they find out about it. I feel like that is what is happening here. We are keeping a lot of this information buried in the fine print and away from the attention of the stockholders - our community. I also think it is very naive to assume that we can buy loyalty just by paying higher wages. As an example, last year we gave one administrator a 12 percent raise, about $10,000. Now this person is leaving the district for a better opportunity. I certainly don't fault them, but we certainly did not buy their loyalty with higher tax dollars either.
I think the board should make a commitment to the community to release this information to the public in advance of any budget vote, thereby releasing the school district of any impression of impropriety. I think it is wrong that an outgoing board, a lame duck board, particularly this board, hand out one of the highest across the board salary increases of any school district that I know of in recent history. I think there is a certain sense of underhandedness here which will tie the hands of the community for years to come. If the practice is that usually the board does not conduct administration's salary discussions until late in June, then perhaps we should change that practice. Certainly when we prepared the budget for the community, this information should have been disseminated as it was probably already considered by the administration somewhere in the calculations for the budget. In my opinion, the community has the right to full disclosure and the right to make informed decisions. I think it behooves us all, to be open, honest, and forthright with the public's trust.