Ex-board member takes exception to story on superintendent’s salary

As a member of the Hoquiam School Board for four out of Mike Parker’s six years with the district, I need to take exception to The Daily World coverage of superintendent bonuses in the May 8 edition of the paper.

The front page article begins with some straightforward information about Parker’s contract as it stands today. So far, so good. The salary history is, however, incorrect. Parker did not receive an 8.9 percent increase for the 2009-10 school year. There was a 4.3 percent cost of living adjustment for the 07-08 school year and a 4.4 percent COLA for the 08-09 school year. These COLAs were passed by the Legislature and applied to all districts in the state.

The companion article states Parker is the only one in the district receiving bonuses tied to goal achievement. This is not true — all administrators have the opportunity. The article also says out-of-district travel for regular season sports was prohibited. It was not stopped, it was reduced. These are the three things that The Daily World got wrong in its coverage. But, borrowing from the World’s own headline for one of the articles, this is “not the whole story.”

Here are some things the public might want to consider:

The reporter, Deborah Tracy, noted the district hasn’t failed a levy in over 40 years and yet passing the levy was one of Parker’s goals for 2011-12. This is true, but in 2010 the district ran both an M & O Levy and a Capital Projects Levy to repair the Middle School and these passed by the lowest margins in history. In fact, if the state was still using the 60 percent levy passage standard in place up until 2007 the levies would have failed. We felt that it was not right to take the voters for granted, especially in a district with high unemployment and which saw the closure of both Hoquiam Plywood and Grays Harbor Paper since the last levy was on the ballot.

The articles discuss vacation day buy backs. When Parker was hired, his contract stipulated he could sell up to 30 days of accumulated vacation time back to the district when he left or retired. The board decided to change this last year and allow him to sell back some of those days annually because events had conspired to make it difficult for Parker to take time off in at least three of the four summers he had served with the district up to that point. If he is doing the work he should get paid for it.

Tracy says Parker had the opportunity to earn bonuses in the face of “drastic cuts” initiated in the spring of 2011. Drastic is not an objective word. It is not drastic to eliminate a swim team that has three returning athletes, cost the district $16,000 per year, and was the only 1A swim team in the state. Losing tennis was more of a blow as participation rates were higher but only three schools in our league have tennis, meaning a lot of long distance travel, and our courts are increasingly in need of repair we can’t afford. There are, in fact, extenuating circumstances with all of the “drastic cuts” Tracy mentions.

Jean Davis is quoted as saying that it is a slap in the face to district employees that Parker received money beyond his base salary. What I think is a slap in the face is the state Legislature passing a 5.1 percent COLA for teachers in 2008 but only a 4.4 percent increase for administrators and classified employees. Again last year the Legislature made a similar maneuver when they cut teacher and classified pay by 1.9 percent and administrative pay by 3 percent. I did not hear any outrage from Davis over the unfairness of these distinctions. The district under Parker’s leadership, by the way, was able to absorb these cuts and not pass them on to any of its employees, as well as paying for the state cut of Learning Improvement Days, which would have eliminated two days of teacher pay per year.

Hoquiam administrators have taken on an ever increasing work load. The Career and Technical Education Director duties have been assumed by the assistant principal at the high school. The middle school assistant principal has been replaced by a half time dean of students, even though 6th grade has been added to the building. Parker has taken on the role of principal for Homelink, which is a school in its own right. Marla Parnell was not replaced following her untimely death and her duties were taken on by Parker, Shannon Webster, and employees in the district office. All of the principals in the district have taken on responsibilities beyond just managing their buildings — things that bigger districts have full time staff to work on such as curriculum and assessments. There has been little or no pay associated with this extra work. Instead, administrators have gotten a consistent message from the state that they are not valued as much as their teaching colleagues.

Base salary is not the whole story for any district employee. Teachers, for example, receive incentive pay, an inservice allotment, can sell back personal leave days and, if they are willing to go through the process, an additional $5,090 - $10,090 a year for having a National Board Certification.

They can earn additional pay by serving on committees such as those formed to study curriculum adoptions. Serving on these types of committees is just part of an administrator’s job. Teachers receive $50 a month toward their medical coverage. Administrators do not. Teachers get $60 a month toward their Health Care Authority accounts, administrators and classified get about half of that.

Let me say with emphasis that none of this is intended to imply advocacy for changing what or how district employees are paid. Compensation is negotiated between the various parties and/or determined by the state Legislature. My point is that it is a bit disingenuous for the head of the Hoquiam Teacher’s Association to complain that another group of district employees earns beyond their base salary. And while utilizing bonuses tied to performance as an incentive for administrators might be unusual, I find it a bit puzzling that The Daily World would find it so scandalous that they would devote two articles (75 column inches!) to the topic.

Judy Morgan is a resident of Hoquiam and a former Hoquiam School Board member.