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Pay hikes send wrong message from school brass

Increasing the pay of people earning more than $100,000 demonstrates a bad case of political tone-deafness.

After months of painful deliberations and even more painful decisions, the Forest Grove School Board earlier this month adopted a budget that cut teacher jobs, limited student choices and deprived the entire community of Gales Creek of its elementary school.

While we share some of the concerns raised by the new community group that's been monitoring the budget, we think the board members were right to pass it.

But, we are baffled by why they then turned around and boosted the pay of district administrators.

We understand that administrators in the Forest Grove district are, in many instances, paid less than those in other districts.

We understand that the extra compensation is linked to more days at work.

And we understand that administrators, who've absorbed job cuts to their ranks, too, are being asked to do more work next year.

But we don't understand how the board can vote 5-0 for what amounts to a 1.75 percent pay hike.

This isn't about incompetence. School administrators had a horrible task and, generally, performed that hard, sad work capably.

And this isn't about the money. The reduction in administrative positions more than pays for the paycheck boost to those who are left.

Rather, this is about a missed opportunity. An opportunity to send a message to students, parents, teachers, and the broader community.

That message is, 'We get it.'

We 'get' that for the past few years, those in the private sector (and many government employees) have gone without raises and, in many cases, have taken pay cuts.

We get that most managers in 2011 are being asked to do more work without extra pay.

We get that part of holding an administrative job is to lead by example, and increasing the pay of of people earning more than $100,000 a year after laying off dozens of teachers, gutting high school programs and closing a grade school demonstrates, at best, a bad case of political tone-deafness.

As evidenced by the letters on this page and the comments on our website, the board's vote has come at a huge cost. It's fueling the anger of those who feel like they sacrificed so much and that the school board too often acquiesces to the wishes of the administration without asking any hard questions. And it's giving more motivation to those who are seriously talking about recalling some board members - a move that we think is far more misguided than the vote for a pay boost.

Yes, teacher pay will increase, too. However, that pay bump was triggered not by a board vote, but by the failure to reach a new contract with the teachers' union by July 1. Like it or not, it's required by contract law.

Administrative pay, however, is subject to approval by elected officials. That's why, two years ago, a pair of local city managers, Michael Sykes in Forest Grove and Dave Waffle in Cornelius, gave up annual raises. Both said they felt it was appropriate to make a small personal sacrifice since they were asking employees to endure layoffs and cuts to their programs.

What's more, the two men saved their elected bosses (their city councilors) the discomfort of voting on an administrative pay raise. Superintendent Yvonne Curtis could have similarly spared the school board from having to take that vote. But she didn't.

That left it up to her employer, the school board. It was their job to say, as many bosses have had to say this year, 'I'm sorry, pay hikes aren't in the budget.'

Sykes and Waffle understood that sometimes actions have a value that far exceeds the dollar amount attached to them. The school board, unfortunately, missed the chance to make a similarly strong statement.