Panel debates hires, raises vs. programs

Posted: March 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Some city School Board members are concerned that a proposed 2 percent salary increase for division employees would come at the expense of instructional programs and would not be in line with city employee pay increases.

The topic was discussed at the board’s Finance Committee meeting Friday in the Central Administrative Office.

Schools Superintendent Rick Leonard presented a proposed $49,131,105 fiscal year 2014 budget that calls for a 2 percent salary increase to all employees (at a cost of $450,000) and adds nine positions ($538,742).

According to Leonard, the division would not have to ask the city government for additional money to support the raises due to the division’s increased average daily membership, which brings more state aid.

The pay increases and additional positions, among other initiatives, would leada to $156,000 in cuts for the current remediation program, in which hourly instructors help struggling students through individualized instruction.

The proposed budget also would cut $82,000 from the instruction department, which would result in parents’ paying for Advanced Placement tests instead of the division.

School Board member Erica Truban said she had heard that the remediation was deemed “essential” to students and questioned the cuts.

Member Vince DiBenedetto said he did not understand how the division could financially provide a salary increase and also hire nine additional staff members.

“That on its face doesn’t seem possible unless we’re doing some program cuts, which it seems like we’re doing,” he said. “It seems like we’re choosing pay over programs.”

Member Sharion Poston said she was “uncomfortable” implementing a salary increase if it came at the expense of instruction.

Leonard, however, said more funds could become available for the remediation program as a result of staff attrition.

The board members were also concerned about implementing a pay raise when the city government will probably not provide an increase for its employees this year.

Board Chairman John Bishop, who said it is difficult to consider not giving a raise to teachers, said he does not want to put pressure on the City Council.

“You’re going to have a hard time getting me to [accept] a raise, especially with the cuts you’re proposing, without some accord from the council,” he said.

Member Richard Bell, however, cautioned against a “lock-step” with the council, because unlike teachers, city employees are less inclined to move to another locality for better pay.

“There’s no push-pull dynamic [with city employees],” he said.

The proposed budget omits about $135,000 likely to be eliminated due to federal budget cuts, known as sequestration.

Leonard said he believes the division can handle the cuts with carryover dollars. “The good news is we’re in fairly good shape.”

A public hearing on the budget is set for March 11. The board will send the final budget to the City Council by early April.

— Contact Rebecca Layne