Principal pay raise idea elicits criticism in Kanawha
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County school board member Becky Jordon's suggestion that the county's high school principals should receive raises was not well received by teachers and service personnel, who want across-the-board salary increases for all school employees.
"We're asking you to count us in. . . . This seems wrong to us," Fred Albert, president of Kanawha County's branch of the American Federation of Teachers, told the board at a meeting Thursday evening. "How are we going to attract and retain the best employees if we don't offer competitive salaries?"
Also Thursday, board members approved a policy that will require schools to get approval from the county superintendent before they bring in certain speakers -- in response to a recent controversy over an abstinence-only speaker at George Washington and Riverside high schools.
Kanawha County teachers are ranked 10th in the state when it comes to beginning compensation, making about $33,400 annually, according to a union handout that cited state Department of Education data.
Teachers in Boone County first starting out make the most in the state, at about $36,700, while nearly half of the state's first-time teachers make about $31,600 each year.
"We're afraid the gap is only going to get worse," Albert said. "We want a pay raise for all employees, and we mean a raise that would make a difference. And we wish we didn't have to ask for it."
But Jordon said the biggest inequity in the Kanawha County School system is high school principals' salaries. The average high school principal in Kanawha County makes about $79,000 a year. Clinton Giles, longtime principal at Capital High, makes the most at about $91,000.
The average salary for a high school principal in Kanawha County last year was $80,672.97, ranking 25th out of 55 counties in the state. Jordon, however, said that ranking is actually much lower if you consider factors such as seniority, which would spike that county average.
"I think that every person in this room doesn't get paid enough. Please know that I respect what each of you do," Jordon told teachers and staff at Thursday's meeting. "I don't like our teachers 10th -- we're No. 1 in everything, and should be in that, too -- but I think that [principals] should be a priority."
In the past three years, the county has had to replace six principals, according to Jordon.
"It's because of burnout. They go to events, sports, extracurriculars after hours. There's so much. It's crazy," she said. "Every time we have a changeover with a principal, there's some turmoil in the community."
Three years ago, five Kanawha County principals left as a condition of their schools getting millions of dollars in federal money. It was not clear Thursday night if those were the principals to whom Jordon was referring.
Other school board members said Thursday they're worried about a budget that's already tight with salaries staying the way they are now. The school board could face a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars by 2014.
"We better identify where we're going to get the money first," board president Pete Thaw said.
"I have no answers," Jordon said. "I'm not going to throw a number out, . . . I just want to address it and do something soon."
Board member Robin Rector suggested examining where the largest inequities are in the system, and what the priorities should be.
"The dollars aren't there. The idea of across-the-board for everyone is so costly, based on our budget constraints. We've been talking for months now about the dollars we're going to be short, without even ever talking about giving some to employees," Rector said. "We don't even know what it is that we're looking for until we do some research on where we are."
Also at Thursday's meeting, school board members approved on a 3-2 vote a policy that any assembly held at a school that focuses on "sex, religion or politics" has to first be approved by Superintendent Ron Duerring. The motion was introduced by Thaw in response to controversy that surrounded an abstinence-only speaker brought into two county high schools last month.
The Christian speaker, Pam Stenzel, was sponsored by a religious group and paid for in part by Jordon's husband. The incident made national headlines when a George Washington High student, Katelyn Campbell, protested the assembly and called for Principal George Aulenbacher's resignation.
Jordon and Rector voted against the motion, voicing concerns that it would create micromanaging and unnecessary work for Duerring.
"Politicans speak at many award assemblies. Let's let the principals run their schools," Jordon said.
"Oh, we tried that," Thaw said.
"Back off," Jordon responded. "He [Aulenbacher] has done a very good job."
Thaw and board members Bill Raglin and Jim Crawford voted for the motion.
"No longer will the auditorium just be open for whatever," Thaw said. "This is not only for the children, but also for the parents. They send their children to our schools with the assumption we're going to be teaching them, not talking about social areas. We're discussing things in these assemblies that ought to be discussed with parents in their homes."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.