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Top pay at county schools shifting

New names make list of 2009’s elite

The highest-paid public school employees in Allen County last year were different from those of previous years, the result of three new superintendents.

Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson remains the highest-paid public-school employee in the county, earning $220,288 in 2009, in part because she was paid for unused vacation days.

Robinson is also by far the highest-paid public employee in Allen County, making more than Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York, the city’s highest-paid employee last year at $127,729, and Memorial Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown, who held the top salary among county employees in 2009 at $151,681.

The top four slots in The Journal Gazette’s annual analysis of public school salaries have traditionally been occupied by the superintendents in FWCS, East Allen County Schools, Southwest Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools, in that order.

But the list changed because the East Allen superintendent stepped down in June and was replaced with a new leader in July, and former Northwest Allen Superintendent Steve Yager took the open Southwest Allen superintendent slot.

The superintendents’ total earnings include their base salaries, payments into their retirement accounts, car allowances for some and other perks.

The departure of two top Fort Wayne administrators last year also left slots open on the top 10 list. Doug Coutts, former chief operations officer, and Carol Lindquist, former chief academic officer, both left.

New to this year’s top 10 list is Nancy Carey, Southwest Allen assistant superintendent, who made $119,217 last year but who also received a pay bump when she was interim superintendent, said Jim Coplen, the district’s business manager.

Steve Cobb, new Fort Wayne chief academic officer in January 2009, is also new to the annual list, making $116,328. South Side High School Principal Thomas Smith was the highest-paid building leader in Allen County last year, earning $110,357.

Whether the administrators’ pay remains the same by year’s end is the question. Some districts, such as East Allen, have frozen administrator salaries in light of budget woes. Northwest Allen hasn’t taken that step, but Bill Mallers, business manager, expects a proposal to come soon.

“I think the climate has changed considerably since we last looked at our contracts,” Mallers said.

Others, while not offering a flat rate increase, are allowing administrators to climb the step scale, which rewards employees for their tenure and experience.

Moving parts

The superintendent shuffle began in fall 2007 when former East Allen Community Schools Superintendent Kay Novotny announced she would resign in June 2009. Novotny had secured the No. 2 spot in The Journal Gazette’s analysis for 2008, topping out at $170,953.

The East Allen board hired Karyle Green as the new superintendent at a starting base salary of $140,000 for her first year, with an increase to $147,805 by her third year.

Brian Smith, former Southwest Allen superintendent, left the district last summer to take the superintendent job at Hamilton Southeastern in Fishers. Smith was replaced by Steve Yager, former superintendent of Northwest Allen Community Schools.

Yager made $157,339 in 2009 as Northwest Allen superintendent. His package with Southwest Allen totals $199,338, including base salary, annuity and car allowance.

Ken Fowble is acting superintendent for Northwest Allen as the board searches for a replacement. Fowble’s total package was approved at $146,500, but he made only $14,390 last year because he didn’t start until the end of August.

Vacation buyout

As an incentive for Robinson to stay with the district, the Fort Wayne board approved a five-year contract in November that included a $30,000 bonus if she remains superintendent for the next five years and an additional $10,000 for each year beyond that.

The board also spent $23,491 in 2009 to buy out Robinson’s unused vacation time, which board President Mark GiaQuinta said will help in the future.

Under Robinson’s previous contract, she could accrue as much vacation as she wanted, and GiaQuinta said she rarely took time off. The new contract allows her to continue accruing vacation, he said, but if she doesn’t use it by the end of the year, only a limited amount can roll over.

“I think it’s really important for people in stressful positions to be required to utilize their vacation,” GiaQuinta said. “Vacation isn’t just there to benefit the CEO, it’s there to ensure the CEO gets a way to recharge her engines and get out of the situation to come back fresh.”

The vacation buyout also ensures that if Robinson ever decides to leave, the district isn’t in a situation where it has to buy out multiple weeks of vacation time on the spot or allow her to take it.

“Ultimately it becomes an anchor around the neck of the organization,” GiaQuinta said. “They have to buy it out in order to avoid having that person take all of their vacation at one time, which deprives the organization of being able to replace the person until the vacation is used up.”

A step up

The Fort Wayne board announced last week that it wants the administration to come up with bold budget cuts, which could include staff positions and salaries. Districts statewide are dealing with their own budget shortfalls, compounded when Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he was cutting $300 million from K-12 spending.

The East Allen board froze administrative wages as part of $1.5 million in budget cuts last year. The freeze ends in July, and the board will decide whether it continues, district spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said.

Southwest Allen has not frozen wages, and it implemented a step scale last fall, causing some administrators to see a pay increase, Coplen said. Northwest Allen also has not changed salaries, but given the governor’s cuts, Mallers believes it will.

“At this point in time, I would anticipate that being proposed as a possible part of our dealing with the cut in funding,” Mallers said.

The Fort Wayne board approved a new pay structure for top-level administrators that will allow them to move further up the salary scale. The board has not assigned dollar amounts to the new salary steps.

Those employees, which include the chief financial and academic officers and three area administrators, have not received a raise, said Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools.

“We were seeing some salary compression between the high school principals and the area administrators and the three chiefs, who have a much broader responsibility base than a high school principal would,” she said.

When a high school principal’s salary so closely matches that of a high-level administrator, it provides little incentive for someone to want to move up in the district, Stockman said.

ksoderlund@jg.net

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