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CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted six weeks ago to approve a not-yet-undisclosed amount of locally funded annual “stipend” pay raises to 37 school personnel, including central administration staff.

Board of Education President Kathy Skinner explained the total local funding for the salary increases amounted to less than $200,000, although that was an estimate, she said. No figure for the total stipend pay has been publicly disclosed by school officials.

Skinner said that giving school administrators and managers an increase in their stipend pay has been discussed by the school board for several years as a needed step 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.”

According to information provided by the Jefferson County Schools officials, the overall raises the 37 school employees received in state and local salary funding totals $340,661, although school officials have not disclosed the amount of local stipend pay the employees received.

The average salary increase those employees received was $9,207, or 13 percent more than what those employees were paid during the previous fiscal year that ended June 30.

The stipend raises took effect on July 1, the start of the school system’s new fiscal year.

The county school district’s two deputy superintendents, four directors, three accountants, 10 coordinators, three supervisors and two athletic directors received the stipend pay raises. The school system’s attorney, its treasurer and chief financial officer, its human resources officer, its public information officer and a school psychologist also received salary raises.

The overall pay raises school employees received includes two portions. One portion involves an annual cost-of-living increase to base pay scales funded by the state legislature that most West Virginia school employees receive, according to Christy Day, a communications officer with the state education department.

The current base pay scales for educators provided includes a $588 annual pay increase for every year of experience an employee has served the school system, Day reported.

A second portion of the salary increases involve extra stipend pay provided to school officials with specific management responsibilities. Stipend pay is funded through local excess levy taxes.

Both the state and local pay are scaled, or indexed, to increase based on the number of years of experience an employee has with a school district.

The current total annual payroll for the 37 positions provided raises is $2,968,368, including the $340,661 additional pay provided starting July 1.

The largest overall single pay increase given was $21,521, amounting to a 21.4 percent pay raise. The largest overall percentage pay increase received was 30.6 percent, amounting to an $18,482 raise.

Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson, whose salary is negotiated separately and directly with the school board, was not among those who received a pay increase. Her salary during the last fiscal year was $175,644, determined by a contract with the school board.

Hans Fogle, the school system’s public information officer did not immediately provide Gibson’s current salary requested on Tuesday.  

The personnel pay raises were approved by the school board on June 22 as part of a series of technical personnel policy updates totaling 325 pages. The change in the personnel policies that awarded the raises appeared as a chart of “salary equity stipends” on page 45 within the 325-document.

The pay raises in the stipend chart are reflected in different percentages for different positions and employee tenures.

Stipends are part of a formal employee compensation structure that all school districts in West Virginia follow. Stipends provide extra pay to employees with management-related responsibilities outside classroom teaching.

Responding to several questions from the Spirit of Jefferson submitted in writing, Gibson said that the stipend scales for “building administrators and athletic coaches” were last updated in 2008.

“June 2020 was the first proposed change in administrative stipend chart in 15+ years,” she added.

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.”

“The index system ties stipends to employee base rates to ensure stipends are equitable based on experience and increased responsibility,” she continued. “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.”

No discussion mentioned or explained the pay raises when the school board addressed the personnel policies during two public meetings.

Those meetings took place on June 8, when the policy updates were initially explained and discussed for about 15 minutes, and on June 22, when the policies were discussed for less than two minutes and then adopted.

Also, no announcement or explanation was given to employees who received the raises either beforehand or afterward. Some of the employees discovered they received a significant pay increase after reviewing their pay stubs.

The bulk of the school board discussion on the personnel policies involved explaining the school system’s decision to begin using a software platform that would make communicating, sharing and updating personnel policies easier and more efficient as state and federal requirements change.

“This is an important and strategic step to making our policies to a more accessible format that includes transparency and a comprehensive system of searchable policies,” explained Amy Loring, the school district’s chief human resources officer.

Whether all of the five school board members understood that they were approving the salary raises when they voted to adopt the personnel policies is not clear. Skinner and Laurie Ogden were the only school board members who responded to requests for comment from the Spirit about the personnel raises.

School board members Mark Osbourn and Gary Kable did not respond to requests for comment. Wendy Whitehair-Lochner was a school board member in June and voted to approve the personnel policies and staff raises.

Reached by phone twice about the pay raises, she offered to discuss the issue after gathering information from school officials. She did not respond to a third phone message on Tuesday.     

Donna Joy, who was elected as a school board member in June, began her service on the board on July 6. For that reason, she was not among the current board members who voted on the personnel policies and stipend pay scale increases.

As in the past, Skinner said school board members earlier this year publicly discussed the need to increase pay scales to retain valuable employees who operate a school system of 17 schools serving 8,900 students.

In recent years, school administrators also endured pay cuts in order 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 of the stipend raises.

Reached by phone, Ogden echoed that there was no intent by school administrators or school board members to hide the pay increases from the public.

From the research and preparations she did before the June school board meetings, she said she was aware that some pay increases would take place with adjusting the stipend pay-scale chart when she voted on the new personnel policies.

“I felt very comfortable with it so I knew I could make an educated vote on it,” Ogden said. “I went through the policies because I felt like that was my job as a board member was to go through those policies and know them and understand them.”

“I would never, ever vote for something that I felt like was underhanded or unfair,” she added.

Reflecting on the school board’s discussions before the stipends were approved, Ogden acknowledged that, in hindsight, offering a public explanation of the stipend raises would have been appropriate.

Ogden, who has been furloughed during the coronavirus pandemic, said she is personally sensitive to financial stresses on county residents and the taxes county residents pay to support the school system.

She added that she appreciates and takes seriously her oversight role as a school board member to help ensure the school system is a financial steward of the public’s funds.

Voting for the stipend pay increases was necessary as part of that role, she said.

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