Fithian seeks an­swers on Kent’s low rank­ing in teacher salaries

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By JACK RODGERS jrodgers@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — Tues­day’s meeting of the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers ended with an un­sched­uled dis­cus­sion on school fund­ing and staff salaries. Com­mis­sioner Ron Fithian dis­cussed Kent County rank­ing third-low­est in start­ing salaries for teach­ers. The is­sue was pre­vi­ously raised by Ed Sil­ver, su­per­vi­sor of hu­man re­sources for Kent County Pub­lic Schools, dur­ing the Feb. 21 com­mis­sion­ers meeting. Fithian said that he didn’t un­der­stand why the is­sue wasn’t ad­dressed two years ago, when the dis­trict sought an ad­di­tional $768,000 in county funds to in­crease salaries. The ad­di­tional $768,000 was to be part of a $1.6 mil­lion fund­ing in­crease re­quested by Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch and ini­tially ap­proved by the com­mis­sion­ers. The $768,000 was to make up for three missed step in­creases in staff pay Fur­ther bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions with the com­mis­sion­ers led to the dis­trict spend­ing down its fund bal­ance — a sav­ings ac­count of sorts — in­stead of re­ceiv­ing the full $1.6 mil­lion in­crease. Fithian was aided by a chart Tues­day night, map­ping the salaries of teach­ers with mas­ter’s de­grees, which also showed the teach­ers’ 2015-2016 salaries. The chart also com­pared the in­crease be­tween salaries in per­cent­ages, sort­ing them in as­cend­ing steps. Fithian said the largest salary in­creases were not given to the start­ing step. “So if you de­cided to only give step one a 2.1 per­cent in­crease, and then some peo­ple as much as 10.8 per­cent in­crease, you al­most have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fact that it’s low,” Fithian said. “Be­cause you had an op­por­tu­nity to change it.”

Couch, who was not sched­uled on the com­mis­sioner’s agenda, re­sponded by say­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion did give three step raises to teach­ers with the al­lot­ted funds. Couch said that to ad­just the start­ing salary, the salary sched­ules also would need to change. She said some steps had no salary in­creases and to ad­just the sys­tem would take ad­di­tional funds. “If we were to cut out all of the dead steps and moved ev­ery­body up three steps, then that would have added an- other in­crease of money that we would have had to ask for, that we could not have sus­tained,” Couch said. County At­tor­ney Tom Yea­ger said that it was the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s de­ci­sion to set the pri­or­ity of where funds are be­ing spent, not the com­mis­sion­ers’. “The de­ci­sion was to pro­vide three steps to the em­ploy­ees, which we did,” Couch said. “If you want us to do some­thing in ad­di­tion to that, then we could have asked for ad­di­tional funds to do that.” Couch said that one of the rea­sons the county is fall­ing be­hind in re­gards to com­pet­i­tive start­ing salary, is that the dis­trict can­not give cost-of-liv­ing in­creases in ad­di­tion to step in­creases. She said cost-of-liv­ing in­creases pri­mar­ily go to staff mem­bers who are on the high­est steps with no up­ward mo­bil­ity. Couch said that in her po­si­tion as su­per­in­ten­dent she could not make a sole de­ci­sion to in­crease start­ing salaries — she needed to con­fer with union mem­bers. “I mean, I un­der­stand what you’re say­ing, and it’s so easy for us to sit here and try and fig­ure it all out, but it’s got to be a joint de­ci­sion by the union,” Couch said. “I can’t just make that de­ci­sion in my of­fice and say, ‘I’m go­ing to lop these three off, I’m go­ing to do this, I’m go­ing to do that.’ I don’t have the abil­ity to do that.”

PHOTO BY JACK RODGERS

Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch talks about salary in­creases for teach­ers dur­ing the March 6 Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers meeting.

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