Board freezes salary increases

By Greg Gelpi

After reports of 32 five-digit salary increases, the Clayton County Board of Education approved a systemwide moratorium on salary adjustments.

The school board Monday night unanimously adopted the measure, exempting pay raises resulting from educational advancement and pay raises resulting from promotions, which will remain in place until an independent study on the system's pay practices can be completed.

Superintendent Barbara Pulliam awarded pay increases during the past three months and said that it was in her discretion to do so without board approval. The raises were attempts to restore equity in salaries and keep the school system competitive with other metro Atlanta school systems, she said.

The News Daily reported raises including a $17,000 increase for Pulliam's secretary, Brenda Benefield, who holds the title of administrative assistant, as well as raises for central office secretaries Terry Porter, Cynthia Denham and Terry Crisp of about $11,000 each. All seven assistant superintendents also received raises, bringing their pay up to $115,663.80 each.

Pulliam planned to award more pay raises until Monday night's school board meeting.

Paraprofessionals haven't received any pay raise in years, Tonya Pass, a paraprofessional at Smith Elementary School, told Pulliam and school board members.

Sabrina Shaffer, another paraprofessional at Smith, said paraprofessionals "desire to be treated fairly and given raises too."

"It is impossible to survive on paraprofessional pay alone," said Chaka Leavell, a paraprofessional at Harper Elementary School.

The salary moratorium will remain in place until the compensation study, which Chief of Staff Jean Hicks said could cost as much as $500,000, is completed.

Hicks explained that the compensation study will compare salaries both internally and externally, create job descriptions for all positions and develop a "pay philosophy," whether the school system wants to pay at, above or below market value for employees and at what percentage.

After the board approved the study, board member Wendell "Rod" Johnson offered the moratorium.

The move was a move in the right direction, Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said.

"I think the superintendent knows that she is going to have to change some of her procedures," Chapman said, adding that Pulliam must learn that her actions will draw reactions from teachers, staff and the community. "I have had a tremendous amount of pressure from my membership to address the salary increases."

Pulliam addressed the pay raises during her report to the school board, saying that she "regrets" the "distraction" that came from her attempts to bring "parity" to the school system.

Previously, the superintendent explained that some school employees were being paid more than their supervisors.

Pulliam said that she is "confident" that the compensation study will find proper ways to deal with compensation.

In other business, the school board approved a policy allowing the school system to use pre-qualified contractors.

The school board also accepted Pulliam's recommendation of Theresa McDugald for chief financial officer, Elaine Thames for coordinator of Reading First/Federal Programs and Thomasina Norris-Goodgame for interim principal of Mt. Zion High School.