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Davalos declines pay raise, keeping with teachers frozen salaries

Students in the St. Helens School District will be taking fewer days off from school due to constrained budgets than previously expected after the school board voted Wednesday to approve an updated calendar for the next academic year.

District staff said passage of Senate Bill 822, which reduces benefits from the Public Employees Retirement System, will result in the school district saving enough money to bring back three of the four “budget reduction days” agreed to earlier this month.

“It’s not enough to buy back the four remaining days, but it is enough to buy back three and then have some monies left over,” Superintendent Mark Davalos said. “Probably about another [$40,000] or $50,000.”

Parent Julie Farrell asked Davalos why he recommended restoring school days instead of using the savings from the PERS expenses to hire more teachers.

“The cutting of days was so that we didn’t have to cut more staff, not that we could add more staff back,” Davalos responded.

Board members appeared to side with Davalos.

“We do our best with the staff we have to make class sizes as low as we possibly can, but we affect all students with days,” said Marshall Porter, who chairs the board.

Two teachers were added as part of the budget process this spring, outgoing board member Alan King noted.

Under the new calendar, the sole budget reduction day will be March 21, 2014 — the Friday before spring break.

The board recessed behind closed doors for about an hour before emerging to approve the new calendar and to sign off on a salary increase for Davalos — as well as announce that the superintendent is declining the $5,000 raise.

“Teachers, he’s in solidarity with your frozen wages,” King said. “But we do feel that the position warrants [$125,000], even though he has opted to continue at that [$120,000].”

After the meeting, Davalos said he did not feel it would be right to take a pay increase while teachers’ salaries are stuck in neutral.

“We’re all frozen. We’ve given up days,” said Davalos. “I just feel the need to be in line with the other staff members of the district.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the last for King, Matt Freeman and Nathan Helwig as school board members. Each was presented with a plaque in recognition of their board service.

King and Freeman ran for reelection this year, but they were defeated by Gordon Jarman and Kellie Smith, respectively.

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