It’s a question we would rather not ask, yet find ourselves posing more often than we’d like: What were they thinking?
The “they” in this case are members of the Niles Board of Education, who have approved a six-figure salary for the new superintendent of schools, Mark Robinson. He starts work Aug. 1. But the salary isn’t the reason for our question, although it does prompt concern, given the reduction in state funding for schools.
What surprised us about the contract the board entered into with Robinson, who is ending his tenure as superintendent of Ashland City Schools, are the sweeteners. According to a story in Tuesday’s Vindicator, the superintendent will receive an 8.5 percent, or $9,400, pay raise after just one month on the job.
But that isn’t all. Because of what is going on in the Ohio General Assembly with regard to compensation for public employees, Robinson could get a significant raise, over and above the 8.5 percent. There are two provisions in his contract that are designed to soften the blow of what is being contemplated in Columbus. That’s not what Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Legislature had in mind when they proposed major changes to the way public employees in Ohio are compensated.
Kasich, in particular, has been clear from the outset: Taxpayers of the state can no longer afford to pay the comparatively high salaries and benefits of public sector workers, and the time has come to bring that compensation in line with the private sector. He has been especially critical of how little the workers pay for their health care coverage and the meager contributions toward their pensions.
Thus, he and the Republicans in the House and Senate want public employees to pay more for the benefits.
Members of the Niles school board have responded in a way that not only goes against the governor’s wishes, but sets a precedent that will soon haunt them. The district is in contract talks with the union representing 180 teachers, who certainly aren’t going to agree to pay freezes and higher contributions for health care coverage and pensions when the new superintendent is in line for such a lucrative deal.
What could the board members have been thinking? The idea that Robinson deserves to earn a base salary $14,600 more than that of the current superintendent, Rocco Adduci, who is retiring July 31, doesn’t make sense.
The district has an “effective” rating on the state’s academic report card, which is in the middle of the scale. To be sure, there’s room for improvement, but to bring in a new superintendent and give him a compensation package that could be one the highest among school districts in Trumbull County is unjustified.
What is especially troubling is the 8.5 percent raise he will get — 7.5 percent “incentive pay for the achievement of goals,” with the goals not defined, and 1 percent in “ancillary responsibilities compensation” for work he will have to do outside of normal business hours.
Such giveaways may have been the norm in the days of wine and roses in the public sector. But today, with the unemployment rate above 9 percent and this region’s population declining, they make taxpayers’ blood boil.
Is the Niles Board of Education so out of touch with reality?