When Delaware state auditors opened the books at Indian River School District in 2016, they found several major problems. IRSD has worked to solve its weak financial policies and alleged financial mismanagement.
In September, the school board resolved one of the final problems: fair pay for administrators. They approved a salary scale for administrators across the district.
“The local share was arbitrary in some cases. You could have the same people with the same experience and the same education levels making two different salary levels,” said Jan Steele, IRSD director of finance.
Most salaries are paid 70 percent by the state and 30 percent by local funds from county taxes, which districts can spend however they choose. But districts can choose to pay administrators more than the 30 percent, and IRSD was negotiating with administrators on an individual basis, based on performance and experience. So the local share of salaries varied across the board.
“While the District’s administrative employees (e.g. directors and supervisors) … were subject to the State’s salary schedule for the State-funded portion of their salaries, we found that the District does not have an administrative salary schedule for local funds,” reported the Delaware Auditor of Accounts.
Most people will now make more money than before, but the 14 who are currently above the scale will be frozen until the scale catches up with them.
This year, IRSD’s budget increased by $353,000 for administrative salaries and $1,262,000 for teachers. Salary adjustments are retroactive to the start of Fiscal Year 2019.
This should impact one assistant superintendent, five directors, two instructional supervisors, three operational supervisors, one administrative assistant, 16 principals and 24 assistant principals.
(This year, IRSD did save money by leaving five positions open, although high student enrollment qualifies them for state funding for one more assistant superintendent, one director and three supervisors. Before the salary adjustments, that saved the IRSD $287,328 in local funds and saved the State $509,522.)
The new salary scale is organized by job title and years of service. Within each position, there are six salary levels, based on years of service, from the first year in that position to 25 years and above. At the very least, administrators will make at least $90,000 as base salary, and at least $100,000 over time.
An assistant principal, depending on school level, could vary from $92,500 her first year to $112,500 after 25 years. A principal varies from $107,500 to $127,500.
The superintendent’s local share will still be a negotiated position.
Most other staff negotiate contracts through the union, including teachers, custodians and other staff.
“We negotiated for about a year, so I have so many different spreadsheets,” Steele laughed, while reviewing the figures.
Much of this work was done behind the scenes, as administrators submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to study education salaries across the state.
The IRSD working group included representatives from each affected employee group, like a supervisor, principal and assistant principal, plus the directors of finance and personnel. They also worked with a school board subcommittee of Charles Bireley, Doug Hudson, Rodney Layfield and Leolga Wright.
The final vote on Sept. 24 was 6-3, with Derek Cathell absent and dissent from Charles Bireley, Rodney Layfield and Gerald “Jerry” Peden Jr. Although they did not respond by publication as to their reasons, Steele said some people voted “no” because they wanted different terms, such as how experience was measured.
The school board changed some amounts and the way experience is credited.
“We only get credit for experience in the position that we have. Like the three new directors (that previously were supervisors or principals) got no credit for those years of service, so they start over at zero,” which Steele said the staff didn’t love, but that’s part of negotiations. “I think in the long run, it’s fair, especially if you compare it with other districts in Sussex County.”
IRSD still isn’t near the top. In fact, Steele estimates that they’re still in the middle one-third of the state, not even matching neighboring districts of Sussex Technical or Cape Henlopen.
Also, with a two-year salary freeze on administrators, IRSD was beginning to lose employees to other districts, or see a reduction in applicant pools. These changes should bring IRSD to a slightly more competitive range, while increasing transparency for the state and for prospective hires.
To entice teachers toward upper-level positions, IRSD intends to bring back their administrative development program.
“One thing I think we do really well is growing our own, to get our own teachers excited about going into administration,” said Director of Personnel Celeste Bunting, “not that we won’t hire outside the district …”
Meanwhile teachers were rewarded for their patience and willingness to renegotiate in 2017. Their previously-reduced pay raises were restored this year.
“We made them whole with five percent [raises] this year and zero percent next year,” Steele said.
During last year’s budget crunch, the teachers and secretaries voted to spread their five-percent pay raise over the next few years, instead earning one percent, then two percent, then three percent through fiscal year 2020. The new contract agreements affected approximately 840 teachers and 74 secretaries. (This only applied to the local share of salaries, i.e. five percent of the 30 percent local share.) Now, they’ll get fiver percent immediately.
Although the teachers’ union overwhelmingly voted to accept the recent change, they reminded the school board that that para-educators haven’t had un updated contract in three years.
All salary scales are posted at www.irsd.net (click “Staff” and “Human Resources Department” to see “Salary Schedules”).
By Laura Walter