Some Las Lomitas Elementary School District teachers are concerned about a proposal to give a district administrator a new title and a “more than substantial” pay bump that’s on the school board’s Wednesday (March 13) agenda.
The board will vote Wednesday on whether to reclassify the current position of director of curriculum and instruction as an assistant superintendent position, with an annual pay increase for the person now in the position, Shannon Potts, of between $25,000 and $30,000, depending on her "step" (one through nine) on the salary schedule.
The current position’s salary maxes out at $177,397 (Step 9) and will increase to a maximum salary of $203,145 if the new assistant superintendent position is created, according to the district website.
The scale of the pay increase is unprecedented in the district, because pay raises for administrators are usually tied to those of teachers (teachers and administrators already received a raise of 6 percent spread over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years), said Mimi Sabo, co-president of the teachers' union, the Las Lomitas Education Association. Sabo added that the raise is “more than substantial.”
Sabo said the decision to put this item on the school board agenda less than a week before the board could act on the proposed changes is "egregious." She said 37 of the 97 certified teachers in the union emailed her since Friday (March 8) expressing opposition to the raise and reclassification of the position, calling the board's short-notice introduction of the proposal “shady,” “sneaky,” “underhanded,” a “mockery” and “humiliating.”
Sabo said she has three main concerns about the proposal: the questionable need for an assistant superintendent in a school district as small as Las Lomitas, which has only 1,259 students; the fiscal impact on the district; and the timing of the raise.
The board will also miss the chance to hear feedback on Potts and the administration from a survey of teachers done as part of the district’s effort to hire a new superintendent, said Sabo, who has seen the survey results. Superintendent Lisa Cesario announced in late January that she will retire at the end of the school year. The survey results, Sabo said, will be presented a day after the possible Wednesday vote, and could be “vital” to a board decision on whether Potts should be given the new title and raise.
In the survey, 66 of the 97 union members shared qualities they’d like to see in a superintendent, she said. There are also 30 comments that are specific about how teachers view the district's administration, she added.
Board President John Earnhardt said the reclassification and raise would help the district retain Potts and ensure a smooth transition as the board searches for a new superintendent, who would start on July 1.
“This was my idea to retain key talent after Lisa Cesario informed the board of her retirement in January,” he said in an email. “The board's role is to make sure we have a smooth transition to our next superintendent and a well-run district overall. This is the right move for the district and the right move for our kids.”
The raise would be effective upon board approval, Earnhardt said.
It’s unwise to commit to these annual increases and expenditures before the new superintendent comes on board, Sabo said. The administration has denied teachers opportunities for professional development and to attend conferences because of a lack of funds, she said. Funds would be better spent on those initiatives -- which more directly impact students and teachers -- rather than on bumping administrators’ pay, she added.
The district has two schools -- Las Lomitas (K-3) in Atherton and La Entrada (4-8) in Menlo Park. The current enrollment of 1,259 students represents a drop of 5.4 percent from the last school year, according to Sept. 12, 2018, enrollment numbers.
“Why in the world does a school district the size of Las Lomitas need an assistant superintendent?” Sabo said. “It’s a small school district and enrollment is declining.”
Potts did not respond to a request for comment.
Potts’ salary was $162,345 in 2016, according to the latest data from Transparent California, which tracks compensation of public employees in the state. Before becoming the director of curriculum and instruction, she was principal of La Entrada Middle School, where she began her career in the district in 2012.
The consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea, & Associates is managing the search for Cesario’s successor. The firm is also helping the nearby Portola Valley School District replace Superintendent Eric Hartwig, who is also leaving his post at the end of the school year.
The March 13 meeting is at 7 p.m. at the district office, 1011 Altschul Ave. in Menlo Park.