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PPS salaries continue to rise, but slower than some would like

Administrators are leaving PPS for higher wages elsewhere


TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland school board member Pam Knowles last week objected to a freeze on market adjustments for administrative salaries. Portland Public Schools nearly faced a government shutdown as board member Pam Knowles became the swing vote to adopt the budget June 21.

Directors Mike Rosen, Paul Anthony and Steve Buel had already voted no. Knowles had passed in the roll call vote so that she could vote last.

Knowles was protesting, in part, the freeze on market adjustments for administrative salaries, passed July 28 of last year, pending the completion of an audit.

That audit has taken much longer than previously estimated and, as of press time, there was still no audit committee meeting scheduled for when it would be discussed.

“It’s been nine months that we have had our hands tied,” Knowles said, listing half a dozen administrators who are leaving this year. “We have been consistently losing our best and brightest out of this district.”

Board member Julie Esparza Brown, who is on the audit committee, said: “I agree that it’s critically important that we review this at our next audit committee and lift that freeze.”

The board-imposed freeze came after multiple news outlets reported in April 2015 that several top administrators earned double-digit percentage salary “market adjustments,” causing a massive controversy and likely influencing the vote for new school board members that May.

However, the freeze imposed by the new board does not mean that no administrators in the district received pay raises in the last year.

In a comparison of salary records from the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, the Portland Tribune has found that all but five of the district’s nearly 200 administrators increased their pay — some by as much as 57 percent.

But that 57 percent figure is misleading — those raises were a couple of people who were promoted from Teacher on Special Assignment to Academic Programs Administrator.

Taking out promotions, the top percentage increase in salary was almost 20 percent.

A longer work year

The “Academic Programs” title popped up again and again for district employees making more than $80,000 per year who nevertheless experienced large gains in salary during the last fiscal year.

For example, William Johnson used to be a “Program Director - TAG” now he is an “Academic Program Administrator - TAG” and makes almost 8 percent more. Michael Bacon used to be “Assistant Director Dual Language Program” and is now “Assistant Director Academic Programs Dual Language Administrator” and makes 17 percent more. Angela Hubbs was “Assistant Director - Instructional Curriculum & Assessment” and is now “Assistant Director Academic Programs ICA” and makes a hair under 20 percent more.

PPS Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer Michelle Riddell explains that this was part of a board-approved reclassification of employees throughout the district.

“It was really just aligning like-work with like-pay,” Riddell says, noting that several employees were doing similar jobs throughout the district but at different pay levels and certification requirements.

The biggest difference? Most went from a 225-day work year to a 260-day work year — no more summer break and a more than 15 percent increase in work hours.

Taken in that light, the double-digit annual salary adjustments make more sense.

But the realignment did cost the district more money. In all, 24 administrators seem to have taken home more bacon under the new Academic Programs salary schedule — an additional district outlay of about half a million dollars.

TRIBUNE GRAPHIC: KEITH SHEFFIELD - A graphic comparing daily rates among Portland Public Schools employees. The red dots signify positions for which there is no work day requirement specified.

Other raises

More raises are coming. The board’s narrowly approved budget includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for non-union employees.

Government managers also get “step increases” — a regular, though not guaranteed, raise based on years of experience.

More than 100 administrators received increases of up to 5.8 percent. Superintendent Carole Smith’s pay stayed flat as did one other administrator. Three employees who have retired are back working, experiencing slight declines in pay as they no longer get a retirement match: Larry Dashiell, Hector Roche and Lorraine Harris.

Also during the last year, PPS General Counsel Jollee Patterson got a 12.8 percent bump, but that was partly because she went from nine-tenths-time to full-time. Accounting Services’ Interim Assistant Director Cheryl Anselone and analytics Senior Manager Shawn Helm got large bumps — 16.6 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively — but, Riddell says, they agreed to take on extra work.

Moving on or moving up?

Between reclassifications, step increases and cost-of-living adjustments, why do some feel that it still isn’t enough?

Riddell says that during the Great Recession, administrators took hits through furlough days and wage freezes. In 2013, with the economy coming back, the district started at the top in analyzing pay — thus the large market adjustments and Superintendent Carole Smith’s now-well known 28 percent raise.

“The first place we looked to make improvements was in our building administrators,” Riddell says.

She estimates the district currently has 50 unfilled vacancies in administrative positions. This is the first year the district is losing people for better pay, she adds.

“We are so under the market again that we just, we really aren’t able to compete and right now we are actually losing administrators to other districts,” Riddell says. “That’s the struggle right now and so we’re really hoping that this freeze will be lifted soon.”

Audit committee chair Rosen isn’t buying it.

“Is that an issue with the freeze, or is that they got a better job and they got paid more?” he asks.

Charlene Williams, the Roosevelt cluster senior director making $127,358, left to be Camas School District’s Assistant Superintendent for $148,451.

Shay James will now be North Clackamas School District’s Executive Director of High Schools at a 240-day salary of $130,803, a slight increase from her previous $127,358 position as Senior Director of College and Career Readiness.

Jorge Meza will be a principal at Parklane Elementary School in the Centennial School District of east Portland. As an assistant principal, he made $95,604 annually and now he will make $112,470.

But Riddell says that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We made them principal offers and they chose to decline us and go elsewhere,” she says.

What is Portland’s market?

It is not public yet what might be in the salary audit expected next month, but a major question in the debate last year was whether the district was using appropriate comparisons.

Riddell says the district participates in statewide salary surveys, but “because we are the biggest school district (in Oregon), there are not a lot of direct comparisons that you can make to other school districts.”

But the departure of employees to nearby districts seems to tell a different story. None of the departing employees the Tribune followed were heading outside of the state or region.


Shasta Kearns Moore
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