.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

‘It’s cheaper to keep her’

-A A +A

School board votes 3-2 to amend superintendent’s contract, increase her salary

By Stevie Lowery

In fear of losing Marion County Superintendent Taylora Schlosser to a neighboring school district, the Marion County Board of Education voted, 3-2, to amend her contract and increase her salary during a special-called meeting Wednesday afternoon, March 28.

“For lack of better words, it’s cheaper to keep her,” Board Chairman Butch Cecil said during the meeting.

Cecil, along with Board Members Peggy Downs and Brad Cox, voted in favor of the amended contract. Board Vice Chairman Kaelin Reed and Board Member Carrie Truitt voted against it.

“I don’t support this action,” Reed said. “I think it’s the wrong time and the wrong process.”

The new contract increases Schlosser’s salary from $136,240 to $150,000 for the next four years. However, her new contract will not include automatic four percent raises as it has in the past. There’s also language included in the contract, which would allow the school board to terminate Schlosser if she were to seek other employment during the next four years of her newly-amended contract. 

According to Cox, he voted in favor of amending the contract because he felt it was in the best interest of the school district and the best use of the school district’s funds.

“For me, the difficult thing about this was to strip the emotion out of it and just look at the facts and look at what we were dealing with and what we were presented with,” he said. “The solution is the cost to keep her, which is about $5,400 more a year. That represents a little less than two one hundredths of one percent of our annual operating budget.”

Cox said the costs in finding a replacement for Schlosser would have been more than what it will cost the district to amend her contract and increase her salary. He also clarified that Schlosser did not come to the board asking for more money. 

“When we were faced with this decision, the superintendent didn’t reach out to us and ask us for more money. We as a board decided to talk about our options,” Cox said.

Downs said she initially was not in favor of amending Schlosser’s contract.

“I wasn’t for it at the beginning, but after I sat down and went through the numbers and everything and pulled my emotions out – or most of them anyway – I looked at the numbers and decided to go with the numbers,” she said.

Downs also said she felt the district needed to keep the current staff in place.

“We need this staff. This staff is excellent,” she said.

While Truitt said she agreed that Schlosser is a “skilled administrator” she didn’t agree with amending her contract.

“We have teachers, some of whom are taking a personal day to be in Frankfort today fighting for their pension and fighting for a promise. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to say that one employee deserves a massive consideration like this,” Truitt said.

In addition to remarks from all of the board members, there were also several community members at Wednesday’s meeting, and Chairman Cecil gave them an opportunity to ask questions and/or make comments.

David Winebrenner Jr. of Lebanon was the only person to speak, and he pointed out that this issue is about more than just money.

“This goes far beyond the dollars,” he said. “This is about perception. And, I’m a big fan of servant leadership. I think it’s about perception and you are missing this greatly if you vote for this because people are going to be terribly upset. And morale will be impacted, too.”

After Winebrenner’s comments, the board members cast their votes, and Schlosser’s amended contract was approved. Before officially adjourning the meeting, Chairman Cecil asked Schlosser if she wanted to make any comments.

“I understand there are some questions about my commitment,” Schlosser said, “and obviously until you all see that I stay and see it through you won’t know that. I hope that we can move forward and put it behind us.”

 

How did we get here?

Prior to last week’s meetings, Superintendent Schlosser had applied for and been selected as one of four finalists being considered for Nelson County’s Superintendent. 

On March 20, the Nelson County Board of Education received a recommendation from its screening committee, a list that included three names. The names of four finalists were released the following day, with the board adding Schlosser to its list of candidates to interview. According to a report in The Kentucky Standard, Nelson County Board of Education Chairman Damon Jackey said that while the board was presented with three strong candidates, they were made aware of all of the candidates who applied and wanted to add Schlosser for an interview.

Schlosser was scheduled to interview for the position of Nelson County superintendent on March 28, but she withdrew her name on March 27 following the school board’s closed session meeting when they agreed to amend her contract and increase her salary. (By reaching a consensus in closed session, the board took action, which is in violation of the Kentucky Open Meetings Law.)

 

The numbers

Prior to voting on Schlosser’s amended contract, Cox explained how her contract would be amended, and how her salary would be increasing.

Her previous salary structure, which included four percent raises built in every year, would have looked like this:

2017-18: $136,240 

2018-19: $141,689

2019-20: $147,357

2020-21: $153,250

Four year total: $578,537 

The amendment to her contract will make her salary a flat $150,000 for four years, which would be $600,000, with no automatic four percent raises. The additional cost to amend her contract is a total of $21,463 or $5,366 a year, Cox explained.

Unlike in her prior contract, there are no raises built into the modified agreement. Instead, Schlosser would only be eligible to receive an increase in salary if the board voted to raise the salaries of all certified staff. Schlosser received a raise last year, in February of 2017, when the Marion County Board of Education unanimously approved her four-year contract, which included a 5.8 percent pay raise.

Schlosser has been superintendent for MCPS since July of 2013. She was hired after Chuck Hamilton unexpectedly announced his retirement. She was the only person interviewed for the job.

 

More comments from board members

Before casting their votes, all of the board members explained why they were voting in favor or against Schlosser’s amended contract. 

Reed said he’s confident he can continue to work with Schlosser, and that she will continue to work hard for the school district. But, he was against amending her contract.

“I just think from a timing and public perception perspective, this is not the right time or the right process,” he said.

Truitt shared Reed’s sentiments in voting against the amended contract, but said she still had confidence in Schlosser’s abilities.

“This district has done great things under her leadership and we will continue to do great things because of all the people who are a part of this school district,” she said. 

Cox explained his entire thought process toward making his decision to vote in favor of amending Schlosser’s contract. And, for him, it came down to numbers and what made more financial sense for the district.

“The board was faced with a decision and a situation that I don’t think anyone was fond of,” he said. “Our superintendent was named a finalist for another superintendent position in another district. Now, there’s going to be some agreement and disagreement as far as should we have been in that situation. But, it’s my stance, and I think it’s the stance of most when they really think about it, that in a free market society that we live in like America it’s hard to pass judgment on someone for pursing an opportunity that may improve the lives of their family. So, from that aspect, I don’t think as an individual you can fault Mrs. Schlosser for pursuing that type of opportunity.”

Cox explained that board members were faced with a decision to make – should they let things play out and see what happens or try to prevent Schlosser from going to Nelson County?

Cox acknowledged that Schlosser’s contract, prior to amending it, was “fair.”

“It doesn’t matter if it was fair,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve heard anybody say, ‘I was offered a better opportunity and more money but I didn’t take it because what I’m currently getting is fair.’ I don’t think anybody does that.”

Cox explained that the board considered how much it would cost to replace Schlosser, and how much it would cost to keep her.

“The cost of replacing her would include the cost of the process of going through the search,” he said. “There would be a cost to get a good replacement. If we want somebody good we have to pay them pretty well.”

The Enterprise asked representatives with the Kentucky School Board Association for an estimate on how much a superintendent search costs. In the past, the Marion County Board of Education has used KSBA services for its superintendent search. As of press time, the Enterprise had not received a response from KSBA representatives. However, in February of 2011, the school board hired a consultant from the KSBA to assist with the superintendent search, and KSBA’s cost was $8,500.

Cox, Downs and Cecil determined that the best solution was to offer Schlosser more money - $150,000 for four years - to keep her in Marion County. After the meeting, the Enterprise asked Cox where the $150,000 figure came from exactly. He said when the board asked Schlosser if she would reconsider, she said she would for $150,000 a year.   

Downs said her main concern was that if Schlosser left MCPS, it could negatively impact the school system and set the district back in regards to its future growth, building projects, etc. If the district had to hire a new superintendent, Downs said she was concerned that could set the district back.

“I don’t think we can change the staff that we already have,” she said. “We need this staff. This staff is excellent as far as where we are and what their mindset is and where they’re going. We can’t get there without all these people in place right now.”

Board Chairman Cecil reiterated that the board approached Schlosser with the proposition of amending her contract and increasing her salary, not the other way around. 

“She did not come to us. We went to her,” he said. 

Cecil also tried to clear up some rumors, one of which was that recallable nickel funds are being used for her salary increase.

“The nickel has nothing to do with this. At all,” Cecil said.

Cecil said amending Schlosser’s contract and keeping her with MCPS was important to him because when he was first elected to the board, she was the third superintendent in a very short amount of time. (When Roger Marcum retired in 2009, Donald Smith was hired. He resigned in 2011. Chuck Hamilton was then hired in 2011 to replace Smith. Hamilton unexpectedly retired in 2013, and Schlosser was hired.)

“To me, that was very concerning because this place was in an uproar,” he said.

The costs associated with looking for another superintendent were also high, according to Cecil.

“I try hard to make my decision based on what I think is best for Marion County and the kids of Marion County. Yes, I can lose an election over this, and that’s okay with me. I don’t have a problem with that. When I walk away from this, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I did, in my opinion, what was best for Marion County. That’s why I’m for this.” 

Cecil also clarified that the school board is currently working on its 2018-19 budget, and its currently unknown what cuts, if any, might have to be made. The board will be having a budget work session on May 1, and it will be open to the public. (The time for that budget work session hasn’t been set yet.) 

 

Public comment 

The handful of community members who attended last week’s meeting were given an opportunity to ask questions or make comments before the board voted on Schlosser’s amended contract.

As mentioned previously, David Winebrenner Jr. was the only person to speak. And his comments focused more on the perception of this issue rather than dollars and cents.

“We are struggling with the issue as it relates to pensions. We don’t have enough money to be able to take care of the least among us who are working their tail off,” he said. “I am a big fan of the open market, but Mrs. Schlosser made a choice to go explore the open market… And, here we are in the middle of this budget mess in Frankfort and you all are making a decision when other folks are maybe not going to get the pension they deserve and you’re giving a raise.”

Winebrenner then flipped the situation around and asked why couldn’t every single employee who works for the district go out and shop the market and come back and demand a raise?

Cox responded to Winebrenner’s remarks and explained that the school board created an “attract, retain, recruit” committee to study salaries within MCPS and surrounding communities to make MCPS more competitive. As a result, the board made a commitment to structure the district’s salary structure to be competitive so MCPS could attract high quality employees. 

“We applied those raises, and we addressed that and we will continue to address that,” Cox said.

As far as the district’s employees “shopping around” for better paying jobs, they have that option, Cox added.

“Anybody in this district has the opportunity to shop the market,” he said. “The difference is, nobody is going to know about it.”

 

Final remarks 

Before the special-called school board meeting was adjourned, board members made some additional remarks, and Schlosser also spoke.

Vice Chairman Reed said, while he didn’t agree with the board members that voted in favor of amending Schlosser’s contract, this issue was just a “speed bump.”

“We’re going to leave here today and we’re going to have a superintendent in place who is well-qualified to do the job that she’s been hired for,” Reed said. “We’re going to leave here today with a board who is well-qualified to continue the positive work that we’ve been doing… We’re going to walk out of this meeting here and we’re going to continue the work that we’ve done and nothing is going to change.”

Superintendent Schlosser said it had been a difficult few days for the board and for herself, and she was looking forward to continuing her work with the district.

“I think we’ve worked really hard the past five years to make some really big dreams come true,” she said. “I think there is still a lot of work to do… I’m committed to making our school system special.”

 

SIDEBARS:

 

CARRIE TRUITT’S STATEMENT

School Board Member Carrie Truitt emailed the following statement to the Enterprise Tuesday afternoon, March 27:

“As you may have seen in The Lebanon Enterprise, an agreement was reached to amend the contract of Superintendent Taylora Schlosser. I am not in favor of altering the Superintendent’s current contract in any way. I will be voting against the amendment in tomorrow’s special session.

I believe the events that brought about the decision, as well as the decision itself, create an atmosphere of mistrust which could impede the Superintendent’s ability to lead and disrupt the momentum of Marion County Public Schools.

While I disagree with this decision, I will continue to work with my fellow board members and Mrs. Schlosser to ensure that Marion County Public Schools moves in the right direction. As always, I am here for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you may have.”

 

KAELIN REED’S STATEMENT:

Marion County Board of Education Vice Chairman Kaelin Reed emailed the following statement to the Enterprise Tuesday afternoon, March 27: 

“In light of this morning’s Board meeting, I feel the need to publicly address an issue that has arisen.  I am not in favor of modifying Mrs. Schlosser’s current contract.  I believe that the contract was fair when it was negotiated in January, 2017 and extended just six weeks ago on February 8, 2018.  I will not be voting to modify the contract when the issue is presented to the Board tomorrow afternoon.

I have many reasons for my decision in this regard that I have shared with my fellow Board members and with Mrs. Schlosser. I am afraid that the circumstances that brought about this decision have intangible costs that will make the task of directing a successful school district much harder.  We have made great strides in transparency and community accountability in my tenure on the Board and, in my estimation, this proposal is a step in the wrong direction.

Moving forward, I will continue to work with my fellow Board members and Mrs. Schlosser to bring about positive change and sustained excellence to our District.  I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to serve the citizens of my district on this Board and I welcome any of you to reach out to me if I can be of assistance to you.”