Heading in the right direction

An interesting idea surfaced this week at the Jaffrey-Rindge School Board meeting, as board members discussed how to cut spending to meet the requirements of a default budget. Board member Charlie Eicher suggested that perhaps not all administrators should get a 3 percent raise next year. He recommended eliminating raises for those making more than $70,000 annually, and the board supported the idea, by a 5-2 margin.

The change is expected to save the district about $25,000 — a drop in the bucket when the district needs to cut more than $477,000. In fact, board members made the reduction at the same time that they put back money for the district’s summer programs for students, which Supt. James O’Neill had suggested could be scaled back a bit. So the change really didn’t save money at all, it just got redistributed. But even if it’s largely a symbolic gesture, it does give an indication of where the board’s priorities lie.

And perhaps it could serve as a model for the ConVal School Board, which is also working to hit a default budget target. ConVal’s budget calls for a 3 percent merit pool for administrative pay increases. It doesn’t guarantee every administrator 3 percent — that’s the maximum that anyone would get, according to ConVal Supt. Brendan Minnihan, and some people would get less, depending on their evaluation. But it is the number in the budget and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be spent.

Why not scale that amount back, maybe to around 11/2 percent? That could not only save the district money, but would also bring the maximum wage increases in line with the modest step increases that the district’s teachers will be receiving as they enter the final year of their contract. Some of those teachers — the ones at the top of the salary scale — have received no pay increases at all for the last two years, even as their contributions for health insurance, while reasonable, are increasing. The ConVal School Board is preparing to start negotiations for a new teacher’s contract, and having highly paid administrators getting raises comparable to those for highly paid teachers seems appropriate.

The last thing that either ConVal or Jaffrey-Rindge needs is to lose a great principal, guidance director, athletic director or special ed administrator to another district that pays more money. Both school boards face the same challenge as some of our local police departments. They need to pay enough to keep good people and they don’t want to constantly be breaking in rookies.

It’s not easy to strike a balance, but the Jaffrey-Rindge vote is a step in the right direction. ConVal should take notice.

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