School com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor hired at $100K re­signs

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Jac­que­line Palochko Morn­ing Call re­porter Jac­que­line Palochko can be reached at 610-820-6613 or at [email protected]

The Al­len­town School Dis­trict’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, whose $100,000 salary sparked con­cerns about whether the cash-strapped dis­trict could af­ford that money, has re­signed af­ter nine months on the job.

The school board is ex­pected to ac­cept the res­ig­na­tion of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor Julie Ben­jamin at Thurs­day’s meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to the agenda listed on­line. Su­per­in­ten­dent Thomas Parker said the po­si­tion is not be­ing elim­i­nated, but is not be­ing im­me­di­ately filled so the dis­trict can look at pri­or­i­ties.

Ben­jamin was one of two em­ploy­ees han­dling the dis­trict’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The board hired Melissa Reese as com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager in 2017 and her salary has since been bumped to $67,584. Reese will now be the sole per­son re­spon­si­ble for com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment is in charge of run­ning so­cial me­dia and han­dling me­dia re­quests.

Ben­jamin’s salary was ques­tioned by School Di­rec­tor Robert E. Smith when she was hired in Jan­uary. Smith was the only board mem­ber to vote against her po­si­tion, say­ing the $100,000 salary was “ex­ces­sive.”

Ben­jamin did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a mes­sage Wed­nes­day.

On Wed­nes­day, Smith said he had noth­ing against Ben­jamin per­son­ally but still be­lieves Al­len­town doesn’t have the money for a com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

In June, the Al­len­town School Board passed a $341.8 mil­lion bud­get that was bal­anced only if 23 char­ter schools each agreed to a 10% tu­ition re­duc­tion, which would re­sult in the dis­trict sav­ing $6 mil­lion.

But char­ter schools have not agreed to the tu­ition cut. Last month, they jointly sent a let­ter to the dis­trict telling it to “live within its means.”

That means Al­len­town still has a hole in its 2019-20 bud­get that needs to be filled, which is why Smith be­lieves the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor po­si­tion is not a pri­or­ity.

“When you’re $6 mil­lion in the red, you look wher­ever you can to save money,” Smith said. “We do not have money for lux­ury po­si­tions, and that is a lux­ury we can do with­out.”

Al­len­town said in Jan­uary it was in­vest­ing in a two-per­son com­mu­ni­ca­tions team be­cause fam­i­lies had iden­ti­fied com­mu­ni­ca­tion as be­ing a prob­lem with the dis­trict.

Al­len­town, the re­gion’s largest dis­trict with 17,000 stu­dents, is not the only dis­trict to have com­mu­ni­ca­tions po­si­tions. The Parkland School Dis­trict pays $93,325 for its com­mu­nity re­la­tions and de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor po­si­tion. East Penn pays $66,159 for its com­mu­nity li­ai­son who han­dles me­dia re­quests.

Beth­le­hem Area, the Le­high Val­ley’s sec­ond largest dis­trict, does not have a com­mu­ni­ca­tions po­si­tion, but the dis­trict con­tracts with Ge­orge Wacker of Le­high Val­ley with Love Me­dia at a cost of $24,000 a year. Wacker han­dles the dis­trict’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts.

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