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‘It’s cheaper to keep her’

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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.
“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 27, but she withdrew her name on March 26 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.)

More in the upcoming edition of the Enterprise
Additional comments from board members, the superintendent, and additional information from Wednesday’s special school board meeting will be included in the upcoming edition of The Lebanon Enterprise.

Schlosser’s timeline with MCPS
In February of last year, the Marion County Board of Education unanimously approved a four-year contract and a 5.8 percent pay raise for Superintendent Schlosser, increasing her salary from $123,864 to $131,000.
Schlosser was hired to be superintendent in July of 2013, after Chuck Hamilton unexpectedly announced his retirement. She was the only person interviewed for the job.
In 2014, a variety of personnel changes occurred, which caused some controversy in the community. In May of that year, Benji Mattingly resigned as West Marion Elementary School’s principal and Michael Mullins resigned as school board chairman. Mattingly did not offer a public comment on his decision, but Mullins cited the dismissal of the superintendent’s administrative assistant, Pam Spalding, as the reason for his decision.
At a school board meeting in May of 2014, citizens filled the school district’s central office to express their concerns about the personnel changes that occurred during the 2013-14 academic year. Citizens continued to express their displeasure with the district's leadership in a series of meetings during the summer of 2014 (including a public forum in Loretto that included a cowbell). Some people even made public pleas for Schlosser and school board members to resign.
Fast forward to 2015, and the school district celebrated being named a distinguished school district, and was ranked 42 among the state’s 173 school districts. The next year, during the 2016 General Election, Schlosser and the school district witnessed something that many people thought was impossible. The recallable nickel was put on voting ballots, and it passed. With the additional funds from the recallable nickel, plus potential matching state funds, MCPS will have approximately $30 million that can only be used to build or renovate facilities. (It’s still unclear if the state will be matching those funds.)
And, last year, under Schlosser’s leadership, MCPS underwent an extreme makeover. All of the county’s sixth and seventh graders now attend Marion County Middle School (formerly St. Charles Middle) and all eighth and ninth graders attend Marion County Knight Academy (formerly Lebanon Middle School). Schlosser explained that this reconfiguration was necessary to give all students equal opportunities. Students who attended St. Charles Middle School weren’t getting the same opportunities that Lebanon Middle School students were getting. LMS had nearly double the number of students, and staffing is based on the number of students at each school. So, because LMS had more students, they had more teachers and were able to offer students more courses and additional opportunities, such as classes at the Marion County Area Technology Center.
“A child’s zip code and a child’s address should not dictate what kind of education they get,” Schlosser said during a special webcast in February of 2017.
After having several public hearings, the school board approved the reconfiguration plan, and it went into effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. The reconfiguration of the county’s middle schools has been a big change for the school system, and not everyone in the community has agreed with it. There has been a slight increase in behavior events at Marion County Middle School, which some people have wanted to blame on the middle school makeover. But, Schlosser said the problems that Marion County Middle School and the Marion County Knight Academy have experienced are not new.
“It’s not a St. Charles vs. Lebanon Middle School problem,” Schlosser said recently. “It’s just generally children not being able to get along with each other. We are trying to help our students learn how to get along with different people. It’s something they are going to have to learn. It’s a life lesson.”