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Previously approved administration pay boosts raise hackles amid possible budget cuts.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Paul Coakleys already approved salary increases were questioned by some teachers and community members.

Centennial School District board and administrators got push back for what some described as overly generous raises for its top three administrators at a time when the district is facing budget cuts.

At a Wednesday, June 17, virtual school board meeting, teachers, parents and community members said they were concerned about what they felt were big raises, especially for Superintendent Paul Coakley, at a time when teacher positions may be cut. Administrators and the all-volunteer school board said they received a flood of emails expressing concern.

"It just doesn't look good. Where are our priorities?" Stephanie Cereghino, a music teacher at Patrick Lynch Elementary School, said in the three-hour meeting.

James Owens, assistant superintendent and director of human resources at Centennial, explained that the $30,000 raise for Coakley, which had been discussed on social media, was for a two-year period. It was approved by the board earlier to bring his salary up to a competitive level with other superintendents of districts of similar size, Owens said.

Incorrect cost-of-living increases for administrators had been posted on social media, raised ire and also were for a two-year period, Owens said.

Coakley's salary will jump from the $162,000 he was earning in 2018-19 to $192,000 in 2020-21. Coakley's higher salary is comparable for superintendents in similar districts, Owens said.

Owens and Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Wangeman's salaries also were questioned.

Director Ernie Butenschoen noted that the district lost Sam Breyer, its former superintendent, because he was offered more money to become a superintendent elsewhere.

"Paul is absolutely the best person to lead this district," Butenschoen said. "I don't want to lose this guy."

Although he did concede that the raises "might be untimely."

Director Rhonda Etherly injected another element to the discussion by noting "If Dr. Coakley were a white man, would we be having this conversation?"

Districts across the state are struggling with budget cuts. Many, like Centennial, are approving budgets based on state funding they expected prior to the economy cratering due to the coronavirus pandemic. Districts probably won't know until mid- to late summer how much funding they will get from the state.

To make budgeting even more complicated, school districts are still trying to figure out if they will teach students in person, remotely or a hybrid of both when school opens in the fall. Those decisions could change staffing needs.

Owens said that six elementary school teaching positions of 120 already have been reallocated in Centennial. He also said that if there is a reduction of 5% to 10% in state funding, that likely would result in lay-offs at middle or high schools.

"We're doing our best to hold on to our staff," he said.

Stacy Coogen, a teacher at Patrick Lynch Elementary School, said at the meeting that "the salary increases are not unifying" and noted that the district serves many low-income families and the administrative raises are jarring.

The seven-member school board approved the proposed budget by a 6 to 1 vote, including the raises.

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