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32 school officials get 5-digit raises

By Greg Gelpi

While teachers are hoping for a 6 percent pay raise from the state, a number of Clayton County school administrators have recently received five-digit salary "adjustments."

According to school system records, seven assistant superintendents received pay increases, bringing each one to $115,663.80 annually, along with a list of other pay raises.

While teachers received a 2 percent raise that went into effect Jan. 1, some school system secretaries received as much as 30 percent or $17,000 pay increases.

The salary increases for the employees given midyear hikes total $108,675.33 a month, according to figures obtained by the News Daily.

School Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, however, said the salary "adjustments" are not out of the ordinary and that the adjustments are built into the budget and given to those "staff who are deserving." As far as secretaries, some people hold the title of "secretary," but actually perform duties beyond those of a traditional secretary, she said.

The salary increases are an attempt to bring "equity" to a situation that hasn't had equity in at least 10 years, she said. Some personnel were being paid less than those they supervised.

Assistant Superintendent Sam King agreed, calling that a "common" practice, adding that some were paid $30,000 to $40,000 more than those who supervised them.

"My issue is whether it's within budget," Pulliam said. "The cuts were made, we have a budget and that is within budget. We always plan for salary adjustments."

The "real issue" is the need for a review of the school system, what people do, how much they are paid and how that pay compares to market value, she said.

"The thing is that we want to see people paid fairly for what they do," Pulliam said.

She said she intends to ask the Clayton County Board of Education to review the salary issue.

"I think it's hard to justify pay raises for one group and not give them across the board," said Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association. "I think if their duties increased it would be justified. With all of the cuts going on, it would not be the best morale-building move. It might be questionable to raise salaries on one end while cutting on the other end."

The average school administrator in the state was paid $75,471.75 last school year, according to the Governor's Office of School Achievement report card. Clayton County's average administrator was paid $83,736.66.

The school system should remain as one of the system's with the highest paid administrators with its latest pay raises. Of the pay increases, 32 were for $10,000 or more.

Eleven of those raises were for non-teaching positions and came as a result of promotions, which included increased responsibilities and duties along with increased pay, Sharon Contreras Halton, chief academic officer, said.

Some of the raises don't come from the school system's general fund, school spokesman Charles White added. Teachers also earn raises through experience, training and advanced degrees.

"Holy cow," said Mary Baker, the president of the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education. "You've got to be kidding me."

The school board approved a plan in March to make a series of cuts before approving the current budget, including cutting a number of teaching and administrative positions.

The school board cut two senior administrator positions, 51 teacher positions and 44 physical education positions, which resulted in 38 physical education teachers not being offered contracts and being let go from the school system.

In addition, all departmental budgets were cut by 10 percent, class sizes were increased to the maximum allowed by law, buses were purchased from SPLOST funds rather than the general fund and new textbook adoptions were suspended, among other cuts. The cuts shaved $16 million out of the school system's budget.

"That's a lot of money that could be put directly toward children," Baker said of the pay raises. "I have a third-grader who needs to pass the (Criterion Referenced Competency Test). I would like to see everything directed to her and every child."

The increases exceed those typically given out for cost of living increases, she said.

"I think a secretary has an important job, but I don't think it's more important than the teacher who teaches my child everyday," Baker said. "I have to remind them that we have a shortage of teachers in the state. It wouldn't have been difficult for qualified teachers to find jobs other places, but many of them stayed (while the school system's accrediting agency placed the system on a yearlong probation)."

Neither Chapman nor Baker, who attend school board meetings regularly, said that the salaries were never brought before the board for a vote.

"I would think increases of that amount would have to go before the board," Baker said, especially after the board approved cuts this summer.

Ericka Davis, the chairwoman of the school board, said that Pulliam told the board of the increases, but that it is her understanding after speaking with school board attorney Gary Sams that it isn't the board's role to approve those salaries.

If the salaries were brought to the board for approval, however, Davis said that she is typically "fiscally conservative" and that funding should first go to educate school children.

The board must address its priorities and decide where on that list of priorities is reviewing the system's pay scale, she said.

"My priority is that budget being driven by the needs of the children," Davis said.

The salary increases also have parents concerned.

"The amount and number of significant pay increases is disturbing in light of the 2004 budget cuts implemented this school year," said Bob Boyer, who serves on the Georgia PTA Board of Directors and has a daughter at Jonesboro High School. "As a taxpayer and parent, the obvious question is why would our system choose to eliminate teaching positions at the expense of extraordinary raises for a select group. Sadly, this news will again cause distrust of the school system leaders by both educators and community members."