Letter | Superintendent Contract Renewal on Autopilot: pays one of highest salaries in WA State, leaves unanswered questions

Dear Editor,

On April 4, 2017 at 6:30PM, a Snoqualmie Valley School District Board meeting took place.  One of the agenda items was a board to vote to extend the contract of the SVSD Superintendent through the 2019-20 school year.

In light of this, I’m writing to share the following facts with your readers:

  • According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average tenure of public school district superintendents nationwide is 5.5-6 years. Our Superintendent started in the SVSD in 2005, so a “yes” vote extends his contract though his 15th year.
  • There are 286 school districts in WA State.
  • All WA School District Superintendent salary data is public domain and can be found on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website (www.k12.wa.us)
  • Our Superintendent currently has the 13th highest salary in the state.
  • Of the 12 District Superintendents in WA State with a higher salary, all 12 have a significantly higher number of students and a significantly higher number of staff than SVSD.

[Examples: the largest district in this group has 53,423 students and 3,176 teachers (Seattle). The district whose Superintendent ranks 12th on the salary scale has 22,397 students and 1,093 teachers (Puyallup). SVSD has 6,910 students and 387 teachers. (Data as of May, 2016, OSPI)]

  • Of these 13 districts with the highest paid Superintendents in the state, ALL but SVSD have multiple high schools in their District.  SVSD has only one comprehensive high school.

I understand the personal nature inherent in discussing income and salaries. However, this letter is in no way meant to be personal, and is simply being written to provide factual data.

I attended the School Board meeting last night: my first one.  I was able to witness the conversation that took place regarding this contract extension.  I listened as one Board Member voiced concerns about renewing the third year of a three-year contract for the 12th time for this Superintendent.  The crux of her concern was that she believed the Board needed to be more transparent about its process: allowing public comment/considering public input, discussing the contract, and making the contract readily available to the public…all areas that she thought needed improvement.

Not only was a discussion on these concerns not encouraged – nor was the public given opportunity to comment – the response from all other Board Members was brief praise for the Superintendent and mention of his outstanding review. Then the discussion moved immediately to a vote.  The vote was to approve the extension.

While I have to assume that discussions did take place amongst Board Members about this contract renewal outside of last night’s meeting and prior to the vote, there are two areas of the contract that lack detail, and on which no detail was provided last night.

(This contract is also public domain, available from the District office to anyone who requests it, and I include sections of it below.)

Item 2, paragraph 2, reads, “For the 2017-2018, and the 2018-2019 contract years, annual salary shall be increased over the 2016-2017 annual salary by an amount to be determined by the Board.”

Item 3, paragraph 1, reads, “In recognition of additional work and time …due to the passage of the $244 million bond measure approved in February 2015, including the Superintendent’s need to attend meetings with the design team for discussion of the educational specifications….the Superintendent shall be provided with an annual stipend.  The stipend will be determined no later than June 1.”

The three questions that I would have liked to have asked the Board last night, given the opportunity, were:

  • What is the strategy behind 12 times annually renewing the 3rd year of a 3-year contract?
  • Our Superintendent received a substantial pay raise in 2015.  What increases will take place for the school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, as referenced in the newly extended contract but not quantified at last night’s meeting?
  • It seems logical to me that attending meetings regarding a district’s growth (including new construction and expansions that occur after the passing of a bond) would be an integral and an integrated piece of a Superintendent’s job description.  Why is a stipend being paid, and what is the amount of this annual stipend?  Further, since this contractual guarantee now exists though the 2020 school year, which is when construction and expansions are due to be completed, how might this stipend be adjusted in the coming school years?

In lieu of the opportunity to address the Board in person last night, these questions are being emailed to them today and I look forward to reading the response.

I would encourage any readers who have comments, questions, or input to do the same.  Our Board is in place to represent the needs and interests of all students in the district.  They pledge to “engage and represent the community in student learning”, and to “consider research, best practice, public input, and financial implications as part of the decision-making process.”

Everyone’s perspective and option is unique.  If you’d like our School Board to hear yours, I encourage you to write to them:

Sincerely,

Andrea Stiles

andreastiles@live.com

Comments

  1. Herv Duceman says

    Please voice your concerns. Our school’s portion of our property taxes is well over 50%. Then when a bond comes up for additional money we see “Vote YES for schools” signs all over. Voting “No” almost becomes socially unacceptable. Now that we have sacrificially filled the pot with our tax dollars, it is being spent irresponsibly. Are the board members all exceedingly wealthy or just afraid to represent those of us who financially struggle to continue living in this expensive yet beautiful environment.

  2. Chris Lodahl says

    Mrs Stiles, thank you for your informational letter – it was rewarding for me to see the steps you took to gather the facts and present them in a non-partisan matter. From my perspective in dealing directly with and observing the school board and superintendent over the last nine years – nothing has really changed. Some board members have changed names, but transparency of district issues is always lacking and public debate is cut off or not even allowed. The common denominator in the school district leadership these last twelve years is the superintendent. Having worked in state government for over thirty years and in local politics as an elected official for 6 years – I have seen two types of administrators, those who take responsibility and do their job in government and those who only care about the pay check. Below is a Letter posted in the Star I submitted in May 2013 when the superintendent was actively interviewing to leave prior to a board election. Not much has changed from 2013 to 2017 either.

    Letters
    May 29, 2013
    By Contributed
    Why approve a superintendent who is planning to leave?

    How to make a Golden Parachute?

    First, a letter to the editor written by a former school board member asking for community unity for our schools. After all, Superintendent Joel Aune only interviewed with two other school districts that we know of.

    Second, you have the school board hold a secret meeting (executive session) and then vote with no public input to approve a third-year contract.

    This is on top of a two-year contract to make a rolling three-year contract at approximately $170,000 per year for salary and benefits or $510,000 total for a lame duck superintendent.

    I applaud board member Carolyn Simpson for voting no — as for the other four members, it’s time to rethink priorities and politics.

    This contract extension should not have been brought up prior to an election in which the superintendent is the election issue. Question – Do you have a Golden Parachute Plan for a half-million where you work?
    Chris Lodahl
    North Bend

  3. Rather unfortunate typo there on one of the School Board Directors’ email addresses…

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