BENNINGTON >> The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Board concluded its budget discussions on Thursday with a heated debate on a salary adjustment pool.
"Philosophically, I don't agree with the adjustment pool," said Bennington representative George Sleeman, on a fund designed to bring salaries and benefits in the SVSU offices up to levels competitive with averages in school districts around the state for people doing similar work. He said the supervisory union should not be expected to adjust salaries upward after hiring simply because they could be making more somewhere else. "I just don't agree with it," he said, "I don't think we should be doing adjustment pools."
Mount Anthony Union representative Leon Johnson pointed out the adjustment pool money is part of a three-year process to standardize job descriptions and salaries within the central office. Sleeman said this was the first time he had ever heard it was a three-year project. Approximately $39,000 is budgeted for the adjustment pool in fiscal 2017, to be shared between several departments including technology and special education.
"The adjustments that we made last year went a long way towards where people should be paid, but it's still far short in many instances," said SVSU Technology Director Frank Barnes.
"I know for a fact that when I was working in Williamstown," said board Chairman Ken Swierad, "there were several teachers that left the district for money, and went somewhere else, and you just hired new people to take their place... You don't get held hostage. The first thing you do is hold open the door and say 'If you to go somewhere else, go ahead.' I think we get held hostage if we use that philosophy."
"I don't think we are following that philosophy," said Superintendent Jim Culkeen, "I don't know of anybody who came to someone and said, 'I'm going to leave if I don't get that money from the adjustment pool.'" He said the adjustments were made by the human resources department and were always backed up with data on average salaries.
"The state average for a technician is $44,076, the average for our technicians is $34,598," said Barnes, becoming visibly frustrated, "Ten thousand dollars less, 25 percent less. Systems administrators, the guys that are keeping all of this stuff running, the state average for those guys is $65,800, and our average is $47,814. This is not right, or fair, and it's not the way to run a business if you want to keep people loyal working Saturdays, working until midnight, and coming in at four in the morning to keep 2,000 more devices running, to keep 20 more software programs going. I'm sorry, I'm hot under the collar, but this is ridiculous. I'm asking for $19,000, which is going to affect the budget, what, .001 percent, maybe?"
"I propose you leave the money in the budget," said Culkeen, trying to allay fears the board would have no control over how this money was spent, "and make the instruction to me and to HR that no money from that adjustment pool is assigned to anybody unless we bring it before the board with a recommendation."
Johnson agreed and made the motion to do just that, which the board approved unanimously.
The final budget as approved represents an increase of roughly 8 percent over last year. Much of that is accounted for by the cost of operating pre-kindergarten services for three-year-olds, as has been mandated by the state, the budget shift of transportation costs from the districts to the SU (a shift which actually saves money) and an increase in the cost of special education.