The Helena school board approved a new administrative pay scale in an 8-0 vote at its meeting on Tuesday night, scaling back pay for many Helena Public Schools administrators so it’s in line with other AA school districts in Montana.
Discussions about the new pay scale have been a main topic at board meetings over the last six months.
“I’m really looking forward to moving forward,” said Board Chair Siobhan Hathhorn after the meeting. “It’s just been a weight on the district at many levels and I feel like we’ve come to a good place and I’m ready to move on to productive educational focuses and put this behind us.”
Administrative positions in the district consist of principals and assistant principals at all grade levels, along with a number of upper administrators in the district, including assistant superintendents and the directors of facilities, special education, curriculum, activities, finance, information technology and human resources .
People are also reading…
Under the current model, some of Helena’s administrators are paid about $ 25,000 to $ 70,000 more than the salary range available to their counterparts in other AA districts statewide, following an administrative pay increase in June 2021. Only the salaries of Helena’s principals and assistant principals fall fully or partially within the range of other AA districts’ pay – every other position on Helena’s administrative pay scale is paid above the highest comparable salary in the rest of AA. The new pay scale is meant to fix that.
The superintendent also counts as an administrative position, but Superintendent Rex Weltz’s salary was negotiated separately, according to earlier reports from the Independent Record. His salary falls in the middle of statewide AA peers and will not change under the new pay scale.
According to Hathhorn’s statement at Tuesday night’s meeting, the 2021 pay increase was the first substantial pay increase for administrators since 2000. In the period between 2000 and 2021, Hathhorn said, administrators received one pay increase of 1.5%, along with two freezes on their pay.
Administrators are paid based on a daily pay rate, which is multiplied by the number of days they work.
When the board approved administrative raises in June 2021, Hathhorn said, it only looked at daily pay rates for other AA districts around the state. But in the fall of 2021, the board found out that administrators at Helena Public Schools were making far more annually than their counterparts in other AA school districts.
Former Board Chair Luke Muszkiewicz said at the meeting that he was glad the board corrected administrator pay last year, but that it overcorrected.
“I’m fine being first, but we can not just blow our AA peers out of the water,” Muszkiewicz said. He added that he lost sleep over the board failing in its duties of oversight.
Hathhorn said the discrepancy came because upper administrators in the Helena Public Schools are all working 260 days per year – their counterparts across the AA districts in the state are working fewer.
To fix the June 2021 scale, the board hired Elizabeth Kaleva of Kaleva Law Offices to put together a comparative analysis of administrator pay across the AA schools in Montana.
The new pay scale the board approved on Tuesday night includes a “Current Hires 2022-2023” scale, which is for existing administrative employees who remain in their positions during the next school year, and a “New Hires 2022-2023” scale, which is for newly hired administrative employees during the next school year. While the current pay scale provides higher compensation to administrators with more years of service to the district, the new pay scale offers a flat rate for each position.
All salaries listed on the New Hires scale fall in the middle of administrator pay in other AA districts. Moving forward, the board plans to look at administrative salaries annually, with these scales changing as it does.
Administrators who remain in their positions will remain on the Current Hires scale until it comes in line with the New Hires scale. The New Hires scale currently has lower daily pay rates than the Current Hires scale.
Elizabeth Kaleva, the lawyer who spoke on Tuesday, said current administrators’ daily pay rates are protected under the law from decreasing.
“Once it went up, it’s up,” Kaleva said.
To reduce costs on the Current Hires scale, some administrators’ days were cut – namely, high school and middle school principals, directors of curriculum, activities and special education, assistant superintendents and the chief of staff all received cuts to the number of days they will work in 2022-2023. Those cuts will save the district more than $ 138,000.
As of now, Hathhorn told the Independent Record, administrators receiving cuts in days will still have the same amount of work to complete.
“I think Superintendent Weltz will look for ways to adjust responsibilities within the positions,” Hathhorn said. “Every superintendent has the ability to set up their administrative staff in the way that works best for them, so there’s some flexibility. Also, many of the administrators have just stated that they’ll do what it takes to get the work done and they’ll be flexible. ”
The district is currently in the process of hiring a number of principals and assistant principals, along with a new director of human resources and director of facilities. All of these positions will be paid according to the New Hires pay scale during the next academic year.
Superintendent Weltz said at the meeting that administrators in the Helena Public Schools have his respect, especially since these discussions have not been easy. Muszkiewicz, too, recognized the difficulty of having one’s compensation discussed publicly for six months, and to have it raised and then decreased after two years of “the hardest work of your life.”
“What they do on a daily basis is pull us out of a pandemic, work with teachers, work with the board, and it has not been easy,” Weltz said.
Hathhorn said she hopes administrators feel supported by the board, and know the board wants them to have competitive salaries. She added the board has put checks and balances in place – reviewing administrator salaries each year – to ensure this situation does not happen again in the future.
The changes to administrative pay come as the school district raised pay for teachers by 1.5% retroactively for the 2021-2022 school year, and by 2.5% for the 2022-2023 school year at May’s board meeting. The new pay scale projects that Helena’s highest paid teachers will be making a salary of $ 86,351.13 per year. Comparatively, the lowest paid administrators in the district – middle school assistant principals – will make a salary of $ 104,000 a year, according to the New Hires pay scale.
Teachers are paid on a different scale than administrators, with a step system that increases their pay based on education level and years of experience within the district. According to previous reports from the Independent Record, this year’s increases are the first raises to the teacher pay scale in four years.