West Linn-Wilsonville School Board increases superintendent salary
Although the agenda item for the superintendent's contract was only scheduled to last 10 minutes during the June 6 West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting, members engaged in more than an hour of conversation around Superintendent Kathy Ludwig's salary.
In a 4-1 vote, the board ultimately approved a 10% increase in Ludwig's salary.
Ludwig currently makes $185,000 a year and last year the former board approved a 4% raise.
Before a discussion about compensation, Vice Chair Christy Thompson read the board's joint statement regarding Ludwig's performance during the 2021-22 school year.
Thompson listed Ludwig's achievements in a "highlight reel," such as creating two additional BIPOC affinity groups, conducting a successful survey to collect social and emotional data from students and staff, and continuing to improve district communication with the community.
"The board would also like to acknowledge the patience, professionalism and grace with which Dr. Ludwig has faced contentious issues, such as the still unresolved sale of the Oppenlander property to the city of West Linn and the still incomplete audit that have arisen during this past school year," Thompson read.
The only area of concern the board illustrated was around "effective financial management."
"While the board understands that there were factors and circumstances out of the district's control, it is still concerned that our audit has yet to be completed and as such that our district does not have access to our state school funds. The Board believes that the area of financial management needs to be an area of focus," Thompson read.
The board then jumped into discussion about the superintendent's salary. To help determine Ludwig's pay increase, the board looked over a comparative analysis of surrounding like-size districts and a review of similar superintendent contracts in the Portland metro area including Oregon City, Gresham and Tigard-Tualatin. It was found that Ludwig is one of the lowest paid superintendents in the region.
School board member Louis Taylor advocated for Ludwig receiving higher pay throughout the discussion over her next contract, stating that it was unfair how she was one of the lowest-paid superintendents in the Portland metro area despite her six years of experience and the district's size, as well as the inner-district conflicts she dealt with that were unseen elsewhere, like the Oppenlander property case.
"Dr. Ludwig is being paid $185,000 a year, and (in) one of the highest-taxed communities in the state of Oregon — it is despicable. And the fact that somebody only gave her 4% raise last year is disgusting to me," Taylor said. "We talk about equal pay, we talk about equal rights and then we sit here, and we have this lady being paid $40,000 less with more experience, dealing with more crap than any of (these other superintendents)."
Taylor proposed a 23% raise that would land her at $225,000 a year and put her on par with another superintendent in the area who also has six years of experience. Her entire compensation package, which includes vacation days and benefits, would be around $254,000.
Human Resources Director Shyla Waldren said she agreed with Taylor that compared to neighboring districts, Ludwig was on the lower end. She also said that historically, people sometimes have more opportunities in negotiating higher salaries when they are first entering a job.
"Which is why people with less experience tend to come in higher (in pay) to start," Waldren said. "I don't know if that is how education historically does things — not saying it's appropriate or not — but it's just how it seems to work in our industry."
Waldren helped the district crunch numbers.
Other board members said that Ludwig was deserving of such a substantial raise, but some expressed slight hesitancy because a salary increase like this would be unprecedented. However, as board member Kristen Wyatt noted, the increase in pay might help the board in the long run.
"I can't help but think about this … how are we the most competitive district to hire the most talented people? And in my view, we either pay a higher salary now, or we're gonna pay when we recruit, if she wins the lottery and moves to Europe … and we're stuck trying to fill those huge shoes. And so what I would be interested in from the board is if we have a number for salary, and we think to ourselves, how do we make this a competitive position when compared to our peers?" said Wyatt.
Members of the board also pointed to alarming statistics about female superintendents being vastly underpaid despite a large majority coming into the role with more education and experience. According to a November 2021 report titled "Just Not Ready for a Female," which was produced by the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, female superintendents are paid on average $30,000 less than their male counterparts.
"I just struggle with that 22%, it feels like a massive jump and I'm not saying she's not worth it … but that is where I'm struggling with a large percentage increase. I think that we all agree that she is under compensated," Thompson said. "I'm just wondering if there's an in-between where people might feel good about not doing such a large jump."
Taylor made a motion for an almost 22% increase. No one seconded. Wyatt then made a motion for 14% and no one seconded.
After a brief break, Board Chair Chelsea King motioned for a 10% increase, which would make Ludwig's base salary $203,664. The motion passed despite a no from Taylor.
"I'm just in shock to be honest with you. I understand that the percentage is a sticker-shock for some people. But you're talking about a lady who has been underpaid for six years … and we're talking about a woman's life," Taylor said.
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