School board OKs raise for assistant principals

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

EASLEY — A month after tabling a recommendation to increase pay for assistant principals, the Pickens County School Board voted 5-1 in favor at its meeting last week.

The original motion to approve superintendent Danny Merck’s budget amendment for the current fiscal year totaling $109,847,325, included $80,001 to align the contract for assistant principals.

Trustee Alex Saitta, who opposed the recommendation made in October, cast the lone dissenting vote after the issue was removed from the table for discussion and action.

Saitta said the budget passed by the board in June had more expenditures than revenue coming in for the first time in nearly a decade.

That is a problem he said the district continues to experience, with $375,000 more going out of the school district’s budget than revenue coming in, and a capital maintenance budget that is a million dollars short ($4.6 million projected compared to $3.5 million coming in).

“The district should first pay for things it already committed to, then consider spending on new items like this second assistant principal pay raise,” Saitta said. “Giving this second assistant principal raise now is not required under the law nor was it an error in how their pay raise this year was set.

“The administration just wants to boost their pay more. Next year, revenue is likely to grow and so then the administration should make that their No. 1 priority in the new budget.”

Finance director Clark Webb told the board in October the amendment was due to an increase in local tax revenues of $788,781 due to growth, a state restricted funding increase in fringe benefits employer contributions of $484,117, as well as a State Education Improvement Act funding increase for teacher salary supplement and teacher salary fringe of $132,292.

When also adding in reductions of $476,620 for a state restricted funding decrease for retiree insurance and $37,744 for a state restricted funding decrease in the Education Finance Act, the total increase was an additional $890,827.

Of the $890,827, Webb recommended $810,826 be used for reducing use of the fund balance to catch up a second step increase for certified teachers. The district fell behind on step increases during the economic downturn several years ago when school districts were allowed to temporarily freeze that area of their budgets.

While the recommendation was for $810,826 to be used for that purpose, the remaining $80,001 was proposed for increasing assistant principals pay.

Saitta said he feels the school board and administration “have fallen back into the habit of deficit spending.”

“They are already spending more than they are bringing in and passed another $80,000 in new spending and then, at the end of the meeting, $50,000 in new spending,” Saitta said. “I think it will catch up to them in the long run.”

The additional $50,000 Saitta said involved an increase in pay to a couple of district administration employees.

“A position at one school was never filled this year, so they used that savings too,” he said. “The rough numbers were $100,000 in cost for additional personnel and those couple of pay raises, less the $50,000 they already had in the budget that wasn’t being used. That resulted in a net increase in cost to the general fund of $50,000.”

Although trustees Phillip Bowers and Henry Wilson voted to table to pay increase at the last meeting, both voted in support this time around. Bowers said his decision was due to the fact that assistant principals were not receiving pay commensurate with expectations and duties.

“Assistant principals are generally the next generation of principals and principals select our teachers,” Bowers said. “It is very important that we put the best teachers in front of our students. I want the best teachers, and I support assistant principal compensation so we have competent principals selecting our future teachers.”