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Raise for demoted school worker rejected

An employee who was demoted and took a $5,000 pay cut last year, after questions were raised about lightning strike insurance claims he filed, will not have half of the cut restored, the School Board decided Tuesday night.

Barry Crowley, who was dropped to crew chief from supervisor of safety and emergency management systems in the building department, has taken on added responsibility since December and deserves a $2,500 bump in pay, said Superintendent John Sanders.

But board members were unanimous in their vote against the raise. The reason: Last week the board voted to give teachers a 1.86 percent pay raise, less than half of what they had requested, because the administration said there was no more money available.

"If we didn't have money last Monday, then we don't have it now," said board member Jim Malcolm, who along with the rest of the board pledged to take a long look at the pay scale of all district employees in hopes of leveling discrepancies between the pay of teachers and managers.

Members hinted that other administrators and managers can expect pay raises to be rejected in coming months.

"This position (held by Crowley) requires a high school diploma, and a teacher needs a four-year degree," board member Jerry Milby said. "It would take a teacher 20-plus years to get to the pay range (Crowley's) in now. For that reason I can't support a $2,500 increase."

Milby said that, like teachers, Crowley and other managers should "be looked to to take on added work without expecting compensation."

The 1.86 percent increase given to teachers last week was among the lowest boosts in Florida this year, union officials said. Of Florida's 67 school districts, Hernando's teachers ranked 58th in average pay before the raise, while the district's high school principals and School Board members ranked 31st.

A handful of teachers sat in the front row of Tuesday's meeting wearing T-shirts bearing the number "58" as a protest against their pay. Teachers erupted in a cheer after the Crowley vote, and some speculated that their presence helped sway the outcome.

Sanders, the 28th-highest-paid superintendent in Florida, according to the teachers union, told the board last week that there was no money available for teachers' raises above the 1.86 percent he recommended.

Malcolm said it was "beyond my comprehension" why Sanders would come back a week later with a request for a $2,500 raise for Crowley, who after his $5,000 pay cut makes $32,374 a year. The average teacher's salary is $28,285, Sanders said.

"This is nothing against Mr. Crowley," Malcolm said Wednesday. "The man has got credentials that few people in this district have. For me the issue is teachers' salaries. For me it's hard to give a manager a raise given what we just told the teachers."

Board member Stephen Galaydick said he had a second reason for opposing the raise. Galaydick said Sanders received permission from the board in late 1996 to promote a building inspector to handle the duties Sanders now wants to pay Crowley for.

Galaydick said the employee went through the appropriate training, only to be reassigned by Sanders.

"After this board approved that job, you changed your mind, Dr. Sanders," he said. "I did not like that, and I have not forgotten that, sir. Sir, I expect you to follow instructions this board gives you."

Chairman John Druzbick, who offered no explanation for his vote against the raise Tuesday, said Wednesday that his decision had nothing to do with Crowley's performance.

"That's an administrative decision that has nothing to do with the board, in my opinion," he said. "I just believe we can't raise people's pay $2,500 when we can't afford to give our teachers a decent raise."

Sanders, Crowley and Graydon Howe, Crowley's boss, did not return calls Wednesday.

Crowley said lightning strikes caused $25,000 worth of damage to a computer system and a theater lighting board. But a lightning tracking company told the Times last year that there were no strikes in the area within five hours of the time Crowley said the equipment was damaged.

Crowley was demoted in the middle of the insurance claim controversy. Druzbick said, however, he was under the impression that Crowley was demoted for his overall performance, not because of the claim.

The Sheriff's Office investigated the claim as part of a larger inquiry into school district operations, but the insurance carrier said it was not interested in pursuing charges.