CHARLES TOWN – Ten weeks ago, the Jefferson County Board of Education, without a public acknowledgement or discussion, gave at least $276,000 worth of supplemental pay raises to at least 38 school administrators and program managers.
Classroom teachers did not receive a pay raise from the school board’s unanimous action on June 22. Only the 38 administrators were given a share of pay raises totaling at least $276,000, and several of those administrators were not informed about their pay raises either before or after the school board approved them.
After two formal public information requests the Spirit submitted to school officials, the full details of who received how much have not been disclosed or explained in public. Key pieces of information have been withheld by school officials for nine employees who received a stipend pay raise.
One of those employees, the school system’s attorney, Laura Sutton, has directed the school system’s response to a second Freedom of Information Act request from the Spirit. That request, submitted Aug. 6, went unacknowledged for three weeks. Sutton’s salary and stipend pay were also among those omitted from the information that was given to the Spirit.
what else is known about the stipend raises?
The raises were approved as part of a series of technical, seemingly routine personnel policy updates. A reference to the raises appeared, without explanation, as a chart of “Salary Equity Stipends” on page 45 of a 325-page document outlining the personnel policies.
That chart outlines a “stipend as percentage of adjusted base” pay for employees in 16 staff positions. Those positions range from deputy superintendent operations, “JC Board of Education General Counsel,” human resources officer and directors to coordinators, facilitators, high school athletic directors and “Accountant III.” The chart lists different percentages assigned to calculate the stipends for certain positions, indexed for years of tenure in education.
The average overall pay raise among 37 administrators where information was available was $9,207, or 13 percent on average. The highest stipend raise of $20,755 went to Beth Marrone, the school district’s treasurer and chief finance officer, who has a bachelor’s degree and 28 years experience with the school system.
Action on the personnel policy changes occurred during two public meetings. One meeting took place on June 8, when the policy updates were initially explained and discussed for about 15 minutes. Another meeting occurred on June 22, when the policies were discussed for less than two minutes and then adopted.
Much of the school board’s discussion on the personnel policies involved explaining the school system’s decision to use a software service to make communicating, sharing and updating personnel policies easier and more efficient.
Reached by phone earlier this month, school board President Kathy Skinner said giving school administrators and managers an increase in pay has been discussed by the school board for several years to retain qualified employees.
“We just need to be competitive [with other school district salaries],” she said. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”
Skinner said the pay raises amounted to less than $200,000, although that was an estimate she recalled without documents before her, she said.
Responding to questions submitted in writing from the Spirit of Jefferson, Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson wrote that stipend pay scales that boost pay for “building administrators and athletic coaches” were last updated in 2008.
Gibson also shared this explanation in writing: “In concert with these efforts, Jefferson County recently updated the 15-year-old flat rate stipend system to an index system. Before revision, service and professional stipend dollar amounts were the exact same amount as when initiated in 2005 and were never updated to keep pace with inflation or surrounding school systems.”
“These efforts to recruit and retain the highest quality staff, along with a family-focused culture, are a strong part of what keeps JCS a high performing leader in the state,” she added.
Skinner said school board members have publicly discussed for years, and did so again earlier this year, the need to increase pay scales to retain valuable employees that operate a school system serving 8,900 students. In recent years, school administrators also endured pay cuts in order for the school system to fund other needs, she said.
“It may have not had a spotlight on it, but we’re not trying to hide anything,” she said.
Before her term as a school board member ended, Wendy Whitehair-Lochner voted to approve the personnel policy changes and administrator raises. Donna Joy, who was elected as a school board member in June and began her service on the board on July 6, was not among the current board members who voted on the personnel policies and stipend pay-scale increases.
Except for a school district’s superintendent, whose salary and benefits are determined by a contract negotiated with the school board, the paychecks teachers and other Jefferson County school employees receive include a combination of “base” pay from state funds set by the legislature and by supplemental “stipend” pay set by the county school board.
Both the state base pay for school employees and their local stipend pay are determined by fixed salary schedules. Those pay schedules are based on an employee’s workdays, years of education, experience and the amount of college credit earned. For example, an employee with a bachelor’s degree and three years of experience would receive a certain salary, while an employee with a master’s degree and three years of experience would earn an incrementally higher salary. Moreover, an employee with three years of teaching experience and a doctorate degree would receive a slightly higher salary.
At least one administrator, Public Information Officer Hans Fogle, has received credit for experience outside of an education career, a policy change from past years. Fogle’s current salary is based on 17 years of experience, according to information provided by school officials. He was hired by the school system in June 2018 after a career that included several years as a local broadcast journalist, most recently in Martinsburg. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Shepherd University.
All school employees also receive three bonuses a year in amounts that increase depending on their tenure, education level and the number of days they work in a year. The total bonus pay that the 38 administrators receive ranges from $3,650 to $7,300. However, school officials did not release complete information to calculate each administrator’s annual bonuses.
Stipend pay, including bonuses, are derived from a pool of extra or “excess levy” property taxes assessed specifically for the benefit of the school system that county voters must approve. Excess levy taxes are paid in addition to “regular” property taxes set by county, state and municipal governments.
Jefferson County Schools has budgeted to collect $23.7 million in excess property tax revenue for the current fiscal year.