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February 17, 2012

NASH: What is best for our schools?

NEW ALBANY — Last week when I first heard that the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Board of School Trustees was planning on giving a raise to its superintendent, I thought it would be a good topic for my weekly column.

Now almost five days after the meeting that delivered Bruce Hibbard his contract extension and 20 percent salary increase, there isn’t much left to be said. Each story written about Monday night’s meeting has been flooded with web comments which were overwhelmingly anti-raise. Most people agree that with a budget deficit reported at $2.8 million, maybe right now isn’t the best time to start handing out raises.

My opinion when the topic was first brought up back in 2010 could be summed up in the title of my Nov. 19 column “Superintendent’s salary should be based on results.” In that column, I pointed out that there needed to be some sort of track record of higher test scores and better graduation rates in order for a raise to even be considered. While the numbers seem to be moving in the right direction, has enough time passed in order to gauge whether they will keep going up?

I would also point out that Hibbard is not solely responsible for our school district’s improvement. I believe that the teachers in each of the classrooms deserve some credit when it comes to the progress that has been made.

When the time comes to negotiate teacher contracts, will we use the same criteria to determine whether or not they deserve a raise? I would wager that when negotiations happen, the looming budget deficit will be a major factor in the school board’s decision process.

I also pointed out in the previous column that Hibbard signed a contract that specified his pay rate with modest raises built in. That contract was extended in 2010 and again this week. I compared it to a professional athlete who thought that he was worth more money because he had a standout year.

What if the numbers fall next year? Can we go to Hibbard and ask for some of that money back? Can we renegotiate his contract to reflect a lower salary if the numbers drop off one year?

Why do we even take the time to write out a contract if neither party seems interested in following through with it. Maybe there should be a clause in the contact that states that if he bolts early, we can recoup some of the extra money that we threw at him to stay. I am sure if the school board decided to end his contract early, Floyd County taxpayers would still be on the hook for the balance.

The pro-raise school board members have been very outspoken that we got him on the “cheap” and we would risk losing him if we didn’t give him more money. He admitted that he has had conversations with other school systems and was considered for a $200,000-per-year job in Florida.

Personally, I believe that with cost-of-living factors, our pay scale seems to be a better deal. Of course, some people think it would be nice to live in Florida. What would happen if we found a superintendent that was interested in living in Floyd County?

Some of the outrage over the raise was the fact that it was discussed behind closed doors and the plan was not released to the public until the meeting that it was voted on. Many people wouldn’t even have realized it was coming if one of the board members hadn’t written a column in the News and Tribune giving his reasons for supporting the need for the raise.

As they have been quick to point out, the board was within their rights to keep their plans secret. Why wouldn’t they want the public aware of what they were doing? Had they handled the process a little better, they may have been able to avoid some of the negative backlash.

I think they could have helped their cause if they would have presented the contract at one meeting and then voted on it at another. Two of the board members did try to table the matter at Monday’s meeting, but were voted down by the rest of the board.

I hope that the recent progress within our school corporation is not a fluke and things will continue to improve. I also hope that Hibbard lives up to his agreement and fulfills the terms of the contract. If he should decide that he needs more money and Floyd County is not the place for him, I hope the school board looks at this situation and learns something themselves.

Hiring a superintendent that is just using the position as a stepping stone to a better, higher-paying job maybe isn’t what is best for the children in the New Albany-Floyd County School Corp. Ultimately, that should be the only factor considered when picking our superintendent.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com and discussion is encouraged at myfridaycolumn.blogspot.com.

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