BROOKSVILLE — To hear superintendent Bryan Blavatt tell it, one of the ways to ensure that the Hernando County School District excels is to make salaries competitive enough to attract quality people.
Two members of the School Board on Tuesday night said they don't disagree, but they still tried to shoot down annual raises for some of the district's employees.
Board members Dianne Bonfield and Sandra Nicholson voted against two separate agenda items that provided annual raises and associated benefits costs totaling nearly a quarter-million dollars to administrative, professional, technical and supervisory staffers.
"I recognize the hard work our employees do, but these financial times we find ourselves in are going to require extreme measures," Bonfield said.
The so-called step raises are given based on years of experience. The salary and benefit increases for professional, technical and supervisory (or PTS) employees will come from a pool of $101,837. This category includes job classifications such as food and nutrition manager, accounting supervisor and human resources coordinator.
The raises and benefits for administrative employees will cost the district a total of $143,821.22.
Bonfield noted that some PTS employees earn more than $60,000 per year. The salary range for school-based administrators — principals and assistant principals — is $52,500 to $89,725; the range for district-level administrators is $60,000 to $99,725.
Bonfield said she found it hard to approve raises for such high-paid employees. "My constituents have told me people are lucky to have a job," she said.
Nicholson said she would have considered an increase but the raises should be dollar amounts, not percentages of salaries.
In fact, that's exactly the kind of increases the board approved Tuesday night, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.
Last year, the board approved a new salary schedule for administrative and PTS employees that provides annual increases based on set dollar amounts, not percentages of the base salary.
"There was some criticism that a percentage raise for an administrator is obviously much more than for a custodian," Martin said.
For example, a supervisor in the middle of the salary schedule makes $65,000 and will get a $725 increase. An elementary school principal near the middle of the schedule earns $75,735 and will see an increase of $465.
Hernando needs to catch up to other districts, Blavatt told the board Tuesday.
"I understand the board's concern, but I want you to know as your superintendent and CEO of the district, in order to get quality employees, we at least need to be competitive," he said.
Board member James Yant agreed, saying top-notch employees make the district better, which in turn catches the attention of families who want to send their children to school here.
"I think we have a responsibility to attract people to this area," said Yant, who joined Chairman Pat Fagan and board member John Sweeney in approving the raises.
Sweeney noted that the district is at the bottom in Florida districts last year in per-student funding spent on administrative expenses. He abstained from a separate vote on an increase for his wife, Vivian, an assistant principal at Fox Chapel Middle School. Nicholson and Bonfield voted for Vivian Sweeney's raise, saying it would be unfair not to since the other increases passed.
Administrators in the district haven't received raises in two years while health insurance costs have increased, said Martin, who is in the administrative category. In 2008-2009, a group of administrators presented a petition to the board asking to forgo raises with hopes of saving jobs.
Teachers have an automatic step increase built into their union contract that their increase cost the district a total of $1.7 million this year. Changing that would require negotiation with the union, which shot down the idea this year. Non-instructional employees also received a raise this year that cost the district about $415,000.
Bonfield said the days of automatic increases should be over, at least until the economy improves. The issue is certain to come up next year as the district faces what is expected to be a grim budget picture.
"I believe we've come to a precipice," Bonfield said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.