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PPS board passes raises amidst controversy
The school district is trying to get back into a competitive marketplace, but its plans are blasted as tone-deaf.
The Portland Public Schools board passed Tuesday evening a $2.3 million raise package for its hundreds of employees who are school administrators, senior leadership or who do not belong to a union.
The resolution was opposed by Directors Paul Anthony and Mike Rosen, who campaigned and won in May 2015 on promises to hold administrators accountable for large salary increases. The resolution ends an 18-month process to look into how salary figures are decided on for non-represented employees and lifts a salary freeze.
Board members agreed that employees are underpaid, but several expressed frustrations with how the plan had been reported Monday in The Oregonian/OregonLive.
"I have begged us, absolutely begged us to communicate the full picture," said board member Steve Buel, who said he did not fault the newspaper for reporting what was in the publicly available board packet but rather the district for not communicating the plan.
Directors Pam Knowles disagreed, saying that the reporter should have gotten the additional materials.
"What does it take, a telephone call?" Knowles asked.
Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes said she did call Interim Communications Director Courtney Westling but she was out of the office.
Salary schedules outlining which categories of employees would receive raises and cost-of-living adjustments were posted on the board's website after the vote.
"We corrected that record tonight," Chair Tom Koehler said.
But it was too late for Anthony's vote.
"I'm deeply shocked that we have been paying so many of our people who should be deeply valued so very, very little," he said, adding in a parenthetical aside: "Personally, I think it's morally criminal."
Ultimately, though, Anthony said he would vote against the plan because of how it had been communicated to the public, the lack of response to his request for data to communicate it and the subsequent political fallout.
Rosen said he would have voted for the $600,000 increase that had been budgeted for, but disagreed with the plan to spend four times that much. Chief Financial Officer Yousef Awwad said the additional $1.7 million would come from $1.9 million in savings on health care costs. Rosen objected to that, saying budget savings should come before the board so they can weigh priorities.
The resolution will give an average of a 5.2 percent raise (market adjustment and cost-of-living increases, not merit pay) to middle-wage employees like grantwriters, student success advocates and analysts, in addition to administrators like principals, senior directors and other managers.
Knowles added amendments to the resolution to ensure that these raises are revisited as part of the budget discussion each year to ensure that many of these employees stay around the 75th percentile of the market.
The definition of "market" was a major discussion when the controversy over administrative salary increases broke in spring 2015. Anthony said he was "very satisfied" that the district is now looking at other districts around the state and nation that are comparable in both size, type, cost of living and needs.
The ultimate conclusion that PPS employees are paid significantly below market has not changed from when a previously sitting board approved the salary schedules in 2012 that caused so much controversy when the surprisingly large cumulative effect of the increases was first reported by Willamette Week.
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The raises will be retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, because, Awwad said, the cost-of-living adjustments had already been promised. Awwad said 70 percent of the increases will go to non-managerial staff.
The district is suffering from a dramatic shortage in the wake of the lead-in-water controversy, with dozens of managerial positions empty. Administrators have repeatedly said this is due to the district's salaries not being competitive; critics have said this is because the district is highly dysfunctional and does not follow managerial best practices.
David Crandall, a Piedmont neighborhood resident, was one such critic who gave public comment Tuesday night. Crandall said the interim superintendent was continuing his predecessor Carole Smith's "tone-deaf" leadership and lack of accountability.
The proposal to spend $2.3 million more on salaries with no performance requirements was "doubling down on daring the community to object. I, for one, object," Crandall said. "It's worse than outrageous, it's just simply stupid."
Rosen did add an amendment, approved by the board, that would require performance reviews before a raise can go into effect, but there are no requirements for a positive review.
"How it's received in the public is a very important thing," Buel said.
EDIT: This story was corrected. The final approved resolution did not include an amendment waiving the performance review requirement if the supervisor post was vacant.