In an effort to treat all employees equally and fairly, the School Committee unanimously approved a series of step increases and pay raises for administrators Tuesday night, to the tune of approximately $100,000.
Prior to the vote, Acting Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino explained the need for the pay increases. First, he addressed step increases for administrators.
“We have three groups with steps in their contracts in the Warwick school system. We have the teachers, the WISE [Warwick Independent School Employees] union and we have administrators,” he said. “Two of those groups have received their step increases over the last three years and one didn’t. I believe we should all be treated equally, and if people are working hard, they should receive their steps.”
D’Agostino said some administrators have not received step increases for the past six years.
“I think it’s unfair and unjust that some administrators have been at Step 3 for six years,” he said.
Rosemary Healey, who serves as legal counsel for the committee as well as director of human resources and compliance, explained how steps work.
“Employees work under a five-step pay scale. Steps 1 to 3 are automatically granted from year to year, but in order to go from Step 3 to Step 4 and Step 4 to Step 5, it requires a vote from the School Committee,” she said.
Healey said a step increase freeze has been in place since 2007, which means 12 administrators have been frozen at Step 3 since that time.
While D’Agostino said he understands the tough economic times everyone is dealing with, he feels not allowing administrators to increase their steps is hurting the district.
“It’s difficult to start a person at a higher step if other districts are paying more,” he said. “Also, there’s no incentive for our teachers to move into an administrator position because they see it as working longer hours for less pay. We should send the message that we’re all treated equally and fairly.”
School Committee member Christopher Friel said he agreed with D’Agostino’s assessment.
“If one group of employees receives their steps in a timely fashion, then so should the others,” he said.
Healey said the total cost to implement the step increases for 12 administrative positions would amount to between $27,000 and $28,000.
Next on the agenda was a request to approve a 1 percent pay increase for administrators, middle managers, confidential secretaries and the acting superintendent, for a total cost of $55,000 for 67 employees.
D’Agostino said since teachers received a 1 percent pay increase and the WISE union received a 2 percent pay increase, that administrators should also be considered for a pay increase.
“All of the groups work together for a common cause, working hard side by side, and we should send a positive message that everyone is treated fairly in this district,” he said, echoing his earlier comments. “It sends the message that we appreciate what you do for our schools.”
School Committee Vice Chair Patrick Maloney said he was conflicted about approving the raises.
“I’ve visited schools and talked to administrators, who do a lot of good work and find money where it doesn’t exist, which keeps us in budget, but I can’t ignore our current economic situation,” he said. “I’ve voted against every raise that has come up during my time on the School Committee, except for a small one in 2009. The administrators deserve raises, but it’s difficult to give anything to anybody with our current economic climate.”
Maloney continued his comments, addressing the district’s need for additional principals this school year.
“We saw a need for additional principals this year and we had some excellent candidates, but on the day we were ready to vote on them, we had to go back out and search again because they went elsewhere,” he said. “I believe we compensate people fairly, but we’re missing out on some great candidates.”
Contrary to Maloney, Friel said he wasn’t conflicted at all.
“Both sets of professional workers have done a great job. The pay increases have averaged less than 1 percent since 2007, and even if we approve this [tonight], it will still average less than 1 percent,” he said. “We need to also look at the scope of work and duties of administrators during the time when they weren’t receiving raises, such as dealing with a new evaluation system and taking on the Uniform Chart of Accounts, so I support this without hesitation.”
With regard to adjusting the pay scale for support staff, including bus monitors, lunch aides and non-teaching substitutes, the request was to increase the hourly rate by 3 percent, or from a range of $8.02 to $9.97, to a range of $8.26 to $10.27.
Healey said it was hard to calculate what the total cost would be since the number of substitutes changes, but said the last time she checked, the total cost was less than $20,000.
“This is a large group of individuals that work behind the scenes in part-time jobs, but they’re important jobs because they watch the students and keep them safe at lunch and on the bus,” she said.
According to Healey, the last time this group of employees, who are non-union and who do not receive benefits, saw a pay raise was November of 2005.
“This is long overdue,” Friel said. “It’s almost unimaginable, when you take into account the increase in living expenses.”
Maloney asked Healey how difficult it is to fill those positions and how many of the positions are currently open.
Healey said it was hard to gauge but said the district does what it can “to get people’s foot in the door.”
“We used to have a chance to turn substitute positions into a permanent teaching job, but unfortunately with cuts over the years, that opportunity has decreased,” she said. “In Warwick, we also have a higher level of requirements for teacher assistants than other districts, but I think that’s good and we should maintain those.”
Healey said while there’s a healthy level of interest in positions, it’s much tougher to retain people because once they get an offer for a full-time job somewhere else, they leave.
“Our hope is that people will be patient and stick with us for the long haul with this [pay] increase,” she said.
In other action, the committee approved the addition of a paralegal/compliance specialist assistant position for an estimated total cost of between $39,000 and $42,000 a year.
Healey explained that when she was hired as the director of compliance, her duties solely consisted of dealing with legal matters but two years later when there was a vacancy in the director of human resources position, she agreed to take on the responsibilities of both positions to help out the district.
“I was unable to perform both duties without an assistant director of compliance to assist in legal matters, and that worked well for five or six years,” Healey said, “until 2010 when the position was replaced with a lower paid position with the description to be determined by the then-superintendent, but that never materialized. So, I’m asking for that promised position.”
Healey said she reconfigured the position request by changing it from an assistant director of compliance to a paralegal/compliance specialist, which does not require a law degree, and results in a significant lower cost to the district, “about half of what the assistant director of compliance was earning.”
Healey said she’s been dealing with an inordinate amount of work lately, such as having to reconfigure the district’s policy on bullying as well as having to respond to information requests much quicker with the new open records regulations, which involves a lot of paperwork.
“I think this [position] would be a great service to the school department,” she said.
Committee member Eugene Nadeau added, “We can’t ask any employee to perform two jobs without the proper assistance and compensation.”
When Maloney asked for D’Agostino’s opinion on the matter, as he often sees things others may not in his capacity as the acting superintendent and director of special education, he said, “We always would like to have an attorney prepared for any situation that arises. Yes, I feel this is needed.”
Prior to the vote, which was also approved unanimously, Maloney pointed out that it could cost the district roughly the same amount of money if it were to hire an additional attorney on a part-time or as-needed basis to help out, but by creating the paralegal position, it’s an employee that would be retained full-time at similar cost.