The Richmond Register

January 11, 2013

Director of technology pay sparks controversy at board meeting

Position has been vacant for 5 years

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — With the ever-expanding use of technology in schools, the Madison County School Board was asked to amend a salary schedule to hire a new director of technology at Thursday’s meeting.

The board and district administrators engaged in nearly 40 minutes of discussion before chair Mona Isaacs asked if someone would make a motion.

Around 15 seconds of silence passed before board member Becky Coyle made a motion, which was seconded by board member Beth Brock.

The motion passed 3-2, with board members John Lackey and the newly elected Mary Renfro voting against the measure. Although the change was not an increase in the position’s pay, Renfro and Lackey both argued that the salary for a director of technology would be better spent on hiring more teachers.

The position has been vacant since 2007 when former director Bruce Lindsey left, said Dr. Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent in human resources.

The position’s 2006 salary schedule was the same as that being recommended Thursday. But, the increment (the potential amount awarded for years of experience) of $9,000 is around $2,000 less than what was approved in 2006, Hub said.

The maximum amount the director of technology could make is $83,000, he said, which is based on 25 years of experience or more.

When the former director left, technology manager Charlene McGee stepped in to cover some of his duties, Hub said, while some of the other duties were distributed among district administration.

McGee retired on Dec. 31, leaving “some great big shoes to fill,” Hub said. “But even Charlene herself would have never said she had the skill set of a networking engineer.”

The person hired for the new position would be held to “different expectations,” said Superintendent Tommy Floyd. That person would oversee the district’s technology network and infrastructure; manage a team “to advance usage” by the district’s 10,600 students; be able to “recommend the direction we would go with the investment of our funds; and would “truly understand how to work with principals to develop plans in their building to integrate technology we’ve already purchased or want to purchase.”

“We think you expect us to bring the best people we can bring to Madison County Schools, and we believe that this salary schedule is a reflection of that belief,” Floyd said.

However, Lackey said, “The problem with this thinking is that it encourages everybody else who has got a supervisory position to think ‘I’m just as important as the technology director, I need to get my salary increased as well.’”

Later in the meeting when Lackey, again, brought up the prospect that other supervisory positions also will ask for raises, Isaacs said, “Mr. Lackey, I have not seen that happen since I’ve been on the board. I have yet to see anyone get an increased salary based on somebody else getting an increased salary.”

Lackey said the district has a reputation — even before he joined the board four years ago — of being “administrative heavy.”

“The money should be spent on more teachers and para-educators,” he said. “This again is another part of that same mindset that we can improve the district by increasing the salary of its top-level administrators. I don’t believe that’s true, unless we have tried to find somebody at a lesser compensation and are unable to do so.”

Renfro agreed. “I think we should pinch pennies,” she said. “I think more teachers might be an idea.”

Isaacs offered her perspective as the associate vice president of Eastern Kentucky University’s Information Tech-Administration department.

“This is kind of what I do for a living — I hire technologists,” she said.

Isaacs pointed out that during her time on the board “a lot of faces have come and gone” on the technology team.

She said one problem with education technology is that “we don’t compete with private industry for these jobs because we don’t have the money to compete.”

“What tends to happen is you hire some excellent people at the lower salaries who may not have the experience,” Isaacs said. “You spend the time, the money, the energy training them and then they leave you and make more money somewhere else.”

Because of the high turnover, she said, the district needs someone with technical expertise and experience in that key director position.

“We need someone who can come in and bring experience to the table and stay with us from loyalty to the school board and help us take care of the big investment that we make in technology, “ Isaacs added.

Brock, who works in the private sector for an IT (information technology) company, said investing in someone who can manage the district’s network is “imperative.”

“If we’re not on top of things, our kids are going to suffer. We’ve got to be out front in technology,” Brock said. “It enables our students, it enables our teachers and it’s imperative we get somebody qualified for this job.”

Recently elected to her fourth term on the board, Coyle said she has seen instances in the past where the district has had to make changes to technology in different areas “because we didn’t get what we needed the first time or we needed a larger system … somebody with more experience can foresee what we need here in Madison County.”

However, paying for this position is not justified in light of the 2009 economic downturn, Renfro said. “Jobs were cut back and people were cut back in salary … I don’t see why the Madison County School Board should jump and pay a whole lot more because the economy is not turned around yet, by no means.”

Later in the meeting, Isaacs asked Hub how the salary change would affect the district’s budget bottom-line.

Hub said the annual difference would be less than $5,000 because of two other vacancies on the technology team.

“Which accentuates the point that … because we have some awfully great technology team members, because we train the heck out of them, we lose them. We are not able to keep them very long — we’re not paying them very much,” Hub said.

Hub compared the recommended salary to that of directors of technology in 10 districts, some with more students and some with less.

Daviess County (northwestern Kentucky) has 11,000 students (compared to Madison County’s 10,600) and its director makes $15,000 more than the proposed salary of $83,000.

Christian County (southwestern Kentucky) has 11,000 students and its director is paid $89,250.

Oldham County (northern Kentucky) has 12,000 students and its director is paid $95,000.

Boone County (northern Kentucky) has 18,000 students and its director is paid $99,000.

Floyd County (eastern Kentucky) has 9,000 students and its director is paid $80,000.

Bullet, Scott and Jessamine counties each have less students than Madison County, and their directors make between $8,000 and $10,000 less than the recommended salary.

“I wonder about other surrounding counties, like Garrard County, that borders our county. I don’t know where a lot of these are. These sound like eastern Kentucky places that you mentioned. Like Floyd (County) — that’s way out there. Boone — I have no idea where that’s at either,” Renfro said.

The best comparisons for “us as an organization are when we compare to other organizations our size,” Hub replied. Although they try to “keep a geographical perspective as well,” he doesn’t always look at bordering districts.

“I don’t think Garrard, Jackson, Estill, Rockcastle counties match  — I don’t believe their circumstances match Madison County Schools nor the environment and the economics of Richmond, Berea and Madison County,” Hub said.

Lackey asked if they could hire someone for $60,000 who was “bright and eager,” but had no experience.

“Personally, I feel you would get the best bang for your buck if you would get somebody without a whole lot of experience. Somebody that you can train, that’s eager, that wants a job.  Maybe a veteran, right out of Afghanistan — that’s what I want.”

Renfro asked if the decision could be postponed until February’s board meeting.

Those who are being considered for the position are employed by other districts, Hub said, so postponing the decision may not affect the applicant pool.

However, the technology team is already trying to manage with its vacancies, he said.

“We can make it happen … But I think it would be unfair to expect that there wouldn’t be some things dropped, and that impacts students negatively. We’re really coming into a very important time in instruction and assessment, and I think of all the times in a school year to delay the decision as important as this — I wouldn’t, in my opinion.”

See Sunday’s Register for a second story about the Jan. 10 school board meeting.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.