NKSD pay raises prompt questions

POULSBO — Some recent financial decisions by the North Kitsap School District’s board of directors has citizens knocking on the door wanting to provide their two cents.

At a July 9 school board meeting, the board asked for public input on the latest draft of the 2009-10 district budget and community members filled the room to speak their piece. Board president Tom Anderson said he had never seen so much public discussion regarding a school district budget, and assured those gathered that the financial picture had not yet been finalized.

“The budget hasn’t been cast in concrete,” Anderson said. “We’re still making changes.”

Citizens spoke out on a range of issues, including administrative salaries, teacher layoffs, funding for maintenance and special programs, and the possibility of creating a citizens’ budget advisory committee. Many community members took issue with the idea of giving certain administrators a pay raise while teachers across the district have recently been laid off.

“How, in this economy, can you justify raises for anybody, especially those in senior management?” community pool advisory committee spokeswoman Jan Harrison asked the board.

The administrators called into question are two new assistant superintendents, Chris Willits and Shawn Woodward. The two assistant superintendent positions did not exist prior to an administrative reorganization put into effect this spring, and both roles carry close to twice the number of responsibilities as Willits’ and Woodward’s previous positions with the district, according to district spokeswoman Chris Case. As executive director of teaching and learning, Woodward’s salary had been $112,340 and as director of human resources, Willits was paid $105,585. As assistant superintendents, both were slated to earn $120,000 per year, which superintendent Rick Jones said was commensurate with the increase in responsibility. The pay raise was also in line with the high end of salaries for assistant superintendents in other local districts of similar size to North Kitsap.

Anderson and board member Val Torrens took issue with the salaries being on the high end of the scale, rather than the low end, because the positions are new this year. Anderson said he had trouble justifying the raises, given the current state of the economy and district budget.

“We all have to suck it up, and I don’t see that in this salary schedule,” he said.

Ultimately, Jones floated the idea of reducing the assistant superintendents’ salaries to $117,500, and the board voted the change into effect. The measure increased the district’s 2009-10 overall administrative salary savings to $317,000. The district generated the bulk of those savings by eliminating five administrative positions during the spring’s organizational reshuffle.

The district’s salary expenditures will continue to fall in September, when Robin Shoemaker, the director of capital programs, finishes her tenure. When that change occurs, the community-led capital facilities advisory committee will likely be disbanded or put on hold, because Shoemaker and the CFAC were only originally intended to stick around as long as funds from the 2001 school district bond were being spent. Jones said he would like to refocus the district’s attention on teaching and learning in the meantime.

Members of the CFAC said they would like to continue providing financial input once the bond projects are done. Catherine Ahl, a CFAC member and former school board president, proposed forming a citizens’ budget advisory committee.

“My feeling is, keep the (CFAC), keep any other committees, but expand that,” Ahl said.

Ahl held up the South Kitsap School District’s citizen committee as a template the NKSD could use.

“I have observed their budget committee at work and happen to think it’s pretty good,” she said. “A school district ought to look around at its neighbors and see what its neighbors are doing really well and adopt it.”

Jones was unsure whether the district would adopt a new budget committee anytime soon, but said sharing budget work with interested community members would be helpful.

Chris Hatch, the district’s director of finance, said community input on the budget is welcome, but creating a new committee would likely require hiring extra staff, which may not be feasible at the moment. Hatch added such a decision would ultimately be up to the school board.

CFAC member Lael Stock summed up sentiments on both the district and community sides of the debate.

“We’re going to have some tough years ahead of us, and it’s going to be important for all of us to work together for the betterment of the kids,” she said.

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