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PTA letter "disappoints" Hampton School Board chairwoman

Jordan Crawford | 7/29/2014, 12:50 p.m.
School Board Chairwoman Martha Mugler is “disappointed” by criticism from the PTA regarding raises for members of the school division’s ...
Hampton School Board chairwoman, Martha Mugler, says she is 'disappointed' with criticism regarding raises for members of the school division's leadership team.

School Board Chairwoman Martha Mugler announced Monday that she is “disappointed” by criticism from the PTA regarding raises for members of the school division’s leadership team.

“I’m just disappointed we didn’t have an opportunity to address it with her directly,” Mugler said of the email sent to members of the PTA on Friday.

“I understand the perception that people have when they look at it at face value,” Mugler said of the raises. “There’s a lot of layers and details to making decisions like that.”

As the school division made drastic cuts to balance its fiscal 2015 budget, including outsourcing janitorial staff and reducing supplements to National Board Certified Teachers, several members of the division leadership team received what the board calls “equity adjustments.” The board unanimously voted for the raises in a June 4 meeting in its consent agenda, without any discussion of the raises.

“Occasionally, adjustments like these occur, particularly when there are some shifts in positions,” Mugler said. “We had two retirements, two new hires and, as a result of some of that shifting, the structure of pay was out of sync.”

“If you compare our upper-tier employees’ pay to our neighboring communities, we’re not that competitive,” Mugler said.

“There’s been quite a lot of concern that the janitorial staff was outsourced ... and some of them are receiving lower pay as a result. Essentially what we’ve really found out from that, we were paying above-market wage for a lot of those staff members. If you want to compare it that way, is it right that we are paying above-market wage for one set of employees and below for another set?”

Mugler said the pay raises were discussed in one-on-one meetings between board members and Superintendent Linda Shifflette. Some of the pay raises were also discussed during closed-session meetings of the board, she said.

“Dr. Shifflette’s our chief executive officer. We rely on her to make reasonable decisions and recommendations. In this particular case, the board felt it was justified,” Mugler said.

School Board member Linwood “Butch” Harper, however, said it might be time for more oversight of division administration.

“[There is] a legitimate concern about everything that has transpired. I think overall the School Board has to ... look more in-depth at things,” Harper said.

As frustration over the raises continued to rise Monday, the PTA president said she talked with Mugler but remained opposed to the raises for the administrators.

In response to Mugler’s comment that she wished they had to a chance to discuss the issue directly before the letter was sent to PTA members, it was stated, “That opportunity should have taken place during the June 4th vote.”

More criticism came from the Hampton branch of the NAACP.

“It’s clear that they’re not being fiscally responsible,” said branch president Gaylene Kanoyton.

“They’re holding our kids’ education hostage in the classroom to pay administrators. It’s not fair, it’s not right. It’s not good for the morale of the current Hampton City Schools staff,” Kanoyton said. “They’re just dancing around the issue instead of addressing it was wrong.”

City Councilman Donnie Tuck said the raises have created “an awkward situation.”

“I don’t want to be critical of the School Board,” Tuck said. “But I just know I expended a lot of effort talking to the city manager trying to come up with creative ways to preserve some of the jobs.”

“I don’t know all of the ins and outs or whys — why they were so underclassified or undercompensated,” Tuck said. “Even last council meeting we voted to give them a $500,000 advance on tax money we expected to get…The timing I think is awkward.”

“When it comes to an expenditure of public funds, the public really doesn’t like to find about things after the fact,” said Megan Rhyne, director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

She said while the board might have valid reasons for giving the raises it would have been better if they discussed them openly.

“When they do it in such a way that looks sneaky, that shakes the whole process because it creates suspicion,” Rhyne said. “It makes it very hard for the government to come back and explain there’s a reason for it.”