The Forest Grove School Board will vote on whether to extend Superintendent Yvonne Curtis's contract for one more year and give her a $5,000 raise at its 6 p.m. meeting Monday night, May 22.
Administrator raises are often controversial, especially with projected budget cuts looming in the next biennium. Calls and visits to the News-Times office and posts on social media reveal many concerns from community members.
One post on the Forest Grove Community Facebook page, for example, stated that Curtis will be getting a 33 percent raise. In fact, if school board members approve her contract proposal, Curtis's raise will be closer to a 3 percent increase, according to school district documents. Her salary will increase from $157,658 for the 2016-17 school year to $162,671 for the 2017-18 school year, about a $5,000 raise.
Curtis's Tax-Sheltered Annuity benefits (pre-tax contributions to a retirement account) will decrease by $74 from the 2016-17 school year to 2017-18 year, making the annual benefit worth $18,702.
Her 2015-16 school year contract paid her $150,150 and about $18,000 for her TSA. She got about a $7,500 pay bump for the 2016-17 school year.
Assistant Superintendent John O'Neill will also be getting a raise. His salary for the 2016-17 school year was $144,196. His salary for the 2017-18 school year, if the school board approves it, will be $144,908.
All these raises are still making up for the 3 percent pay cuts the superintendent and other administrators received during the nationwide recession, according to school board vice-chairman John Hayes.
Last spring, Forest Grove School Board members voted to approve raises for FGSD administrators. Those raises cost the district $143,854 in the 2016-17 school year, which factored in the cost of retirement benefits.
Kate Grandusky was the only school board member to vote against administrator raises in 2016, explaining that while she believed the administrators deserved a pay boost, she would rather see some programs — such as Outdoor School — come back instead.
They came about a month after the board approved raises for teachers — at a rate of roughly 2.5 percent for two consecutive years. Teachers also receive raises for the time they've spent in the district and the amount of higher education they've received. That's why some teachers were getting raises even during the recession, Hayes said.
FGSD Director of Human Resources Kevin Noreen completed a comparison of local administrators' salaries to those in other districts similar in size, location and demographics last year. He found Forest Grove salaries were slightly below average — likely due to several years of pay freezes and cuts.
Noreen looked at the Hillsboro, Tigard-Tualatin, Sherwood, North Clackamas, McMinnville and Centennial school districts. In Hillsboro — a much larger district but similar in location, poverty level and racial makeup — Superintendent Mike Scott made $176,487 in 2015, not including retirement benefits. The Tigard-Tualatin superintendent made $160,136 and the Sherwood superintendent made $141,031.
In addition, there has been some talk around town that this year the school board is voting on a three-year contract for the superintendent instead of a "typical" one-year contract. But Noreen and 16-year school board veteran Fred Marble both said three years has always been the duration of Curtis's contract since she came to the FGSD in 2009. Each year, the board votes to extend the contract by one year, making it once again a three-year contract after another year has gone by.
"Most all superintendents carry a three-year 'rolling' contract and each year when the board completes the superintendent evaluation they vote to approve a new three-year contract," Noreen said.
While there is a lot of confusion about the superintendent's compensation package swirling around on social media, there have been public budget meetings where people could directly ask FGSD Business Director Ilean Clute about district spending. Curtis and Clute specifically offered a public budget presentation April 26 at the district office in order to explain district spending and answer any questions from the public — but nobody attended.
Some are upset that Curtis is getting any salary increase at all, given that potential budget cuts due to state funding allocations could mean reducing the number of teachers in the district.
The school board still has to approve the proposed budget but it currently looks like three full-time teachers at the kindergarten- through fourth-grade level will be cut. These cuts are meant to equalize class sizes across the district, bringing most class sizes close to 30 students, Hayes said, by decreasing some class numbers and increasing others. The class sizes in kindergarten- through fourth-grade will go up slightly and class sizes in fifth- and sixth-grade will go down slightly, he said.
Class sizes have been a concern of many school district staff and parents for several years. The topic continually surfaces in a broad range of school discussions.
Other budget cuts include those to legal costs, office expenses, professional development opportunities and support services.
The cuts the district will have to make will likely not be as bad as once expected because the district saved some money in the last year. The state also made some adjustments after evaluating the actual amount of money that came in for schools — based on income tax and other sources. That gave the district more than officials expected for last school year.