Eagle Schools superintendent’s bonus hinged on set criteria | VailDaily.com

Eagle Schools superintendent’s bonus hinged on set criteria

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

NWS superintendent 2 KA 07-02-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Some people in the Eagle County School District are frustrated that Superintendent Sandra Smyser accepted a 7.25 percent bonus last month.

And some are questioning why the school board even offered Smyser a bonus that size in the first place.

The bonus came as teachers brace for a wage freeze and bonus cuts for next school year.

Todd Huck, a science teacher at Berry Creek Middle School and former president of the local teachers’ union, said he’s puzzled why the board would offer Smyser a bonus as large as 7.25 percent, given the concessions the teachers’ union made for next school year. Huck questions the move even though Smyser’s contract calls for her to receive an annual performance pay bonus of up to 10 percent of her salary.

“You would think the board would sit down with her and negotiate,” Huck said. “I know she signed a contract, but then the board would say, ‘You know what? This doesn’t look good … It doesn’t look good in this economy, not only for the teachers but for our community for you to step up and take a bonus.”

School Board member Ross Morgan said he wanted to honor Smyser’s employment contract. Smyser’s three-year contract expires in June 2011. In addition to the 10 percent performance pay bonus for 2009-10, the contract stipulated that the district would add 20 percent of Smyser’s bonus amount to her salary for next school year.

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As Morgan sees it, breaking that contract would have set a dangerous precedent. Suppose the three statewide ballot measures, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, pass in November, forcing the school district to cut the budget, he said.

“Say Nov. 2 comes around and those amendments end up passing and we have to do drastic things to get our budget in order for the coming year,” Morgan said. “The one thing I do not want to do is have to go to the teachers and say ‘We’re going to have to renegotiate your contract because it’s convenient for us.'”

School Board President Connie Kincaid-Strahan said Smyser’s bonus was based on a specific set of criteria used to measure her performance.

“It wasn’t an indiscriminate, let’s throw a dart at the dartboard,” she said.

Huck said he doesn’t doubt that Smyser deserves a bonus.

“On the other hand we have a staff of teachers who are equally phenomenal and also deserve their bonus and their raise,” he said.

The local teachers’ union recently agreed to a drop in performance pay for teachers next school year.

But Kincaid-Strahan stressed that the district upheld the teachers’ performance pay bonuses for this school year.

“Everybody deserves their nonvariable portion if it’s earned based on their evaluation criteria,” she said.

Teachers received a bonus of up to 8 percent in 2009-10, based on teacher evaluations and gains in student test scores. Next year, the amount of performance pay for which teachers will be eligible will drop to 4 percent.

While district upheld the teachers bonuses for this school year, it is the timing of Smyser’s June bonus that rubs some people the wrong way. The teachers’ union had recently finished negotiations on the teachers’ contract for 2010-11. Negotiations had been especially thorny this year, as the district sought to cut $4 million from the budget.

“Sandra sat there right there across from us telling us what the board would go for and what the board wouldn’t go for, as far as what would be reasonable for negations,” Huck said. “The board knew we made all these concessions.”

Ann Woodworth, an Eagle mother of two students in the district, said it’s poor timing that the bonus came as the school district has been vocally opposing the budget cuts they claim Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 would force the district to make.

“It’s going to be hard to say: By the way, we’re going to lose a lot of money if you vote for this but we’re still spending money here,” she said. “We’re giving bonuses out to our leaders and not thinking about the impact.”

School board members discussed Smyser’s bonus in a series of executive sessions. They arrived at the amount of Smyser’s bonus June 9. Morgan said the decision was unanimous.

The total amount of Smyser’s bonus, which is for the 2009-10 school year, is about $13,144. Additionally, Smyser’s contract calls for 20 percent of the bonus to be added to her base salary for next school year. Her salary for 2010-11 will increase by about $2,629. That will bring her total salary from $181,300 to $183,928.

Smyser could not be reached for comment.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.