The Haines School Board had its first meeting of the school year on the first day of school, Tuesday. They approved certified staff contracts and agreed to spend $7,000 on a consultant for a new superintendent search.
In May, negotiations with certified staff were stalled when the teachers’ union voted down a proposed agreement. Haines Education Association President Lisa Andriesen said at the time that the main sticking point was pay. She said the salary scale did not show that the district valued its teachers.
School Board President Anne Marie Palmieri says negotiations with three certified staff representatives started up again in July. At last night’s meeting, they approved an agreement with increases to salaries at the lower end of the pay scale and decreases to salaries at the very top.
“One of the things that we heard from candidates for vacancies this past spring was that salaries that we were offering were a little low,” said Palmieri. “We ended up losing a couple candidates because the salaries were lower than what they could receive elsewhere.”
In the previous agreement, brand new teachers with a bachelor’s degree start at about $41,700 annual salary. The new agreement for 2015-2017 raises that to $45,000.
“That would help to make us competitive with other schools around the state,” Palmieri said.
She says another goal for the teachers’ agreement was to create less of a disparity between salaries of newer and long-term teachers.
“In the old chart there was a difference of almost $40,000 between the top [salary] and the bottom [salary],” Palmieri said. “So we were trying to shrink that disparity.”
The very top salary was cut from about $81,000 to $78,400. But that doesn’t mean salaries of long-term teachers at Haines School will be cut. Staff whose salaries would be lower in the new pay scale will receive a pay increase of $600 this year and no raise next year.
The salary changes add up to a $53,000 additional expense in this year’s school district budget. Palmieri says that is being paid for out of budget reserves.
Tuesday’s school board meeting was the first for the new interim superintendent, Rich Carlson.
“The goal right now, the first couple weeks it really going to be to help with a smooth transition,” Carlson said at the meeting. “With almost a third of our staff new, these folks are gonna need some support, they’re gonna need some guidance and that’s what these next couple weeks are going to be about.”
Carlson is serving as temporary superintendent after the unexpected resignation of former superintendent Ginger Jewell.
Jewell resigned after one year with the district, saying she wanted to be closer to her family in the Lower 48. Carlson is a retired superintendent who stepped in to help Cordova School District when they were in a similar situation to Haines last year.
The school board talked about the best way to search for a permanent superintendent. In 2013, the board did not hire any outside consultants to help with the search.
“I thought the process went fine last time but I think there are things we can do to make it better,” Palmieri said. “And I think if they are checking references and doing that first cut that might be really helpful for us. Especially in our year of transition.”
The school board voted unanimously to pay the Alaska Association of School Boards $7,000 to assist in the superintendent search. The AASB consultant will help with establishing criteria, recruiting, screening applicants, identifying semi-finalists, checking references and selecting finalists.
The consultant will come to Haines September 28th to begin the process. Palmieri says they may also call in to the next school board meeting, on September 1st.
Because interim superintendent Carlson is currently retired, the Haines board needs to show they are actively looking for a replacement. That way, the State Department of Retirement and Benefits allows them to employ a retired educator.
Right now, Carlson’s contract is for six months. At the meeting, some board members were concerned about trying to hire someone who would start halfway through the school year.
“I think it’s better for our students and better for our staff to have as little turnover as possible,” said board member Sara Chapell.
Chapell and other board members were also worried about attracting only applicants who happen to unemployed. Carlson said one option would be to list a flexible start date in the job posting – for example, between February 1st and July 1st. That way, superintendents under contract until the end of the school year in June would be able to apply.
Palmieri says the school board would be able to extend Carlson’s contract another six months if they are not able to find a suitable applicant to start mid-way through the year.