Superintendent pay raise causes resentment among teachers

The Las Virgenes teachers’ union has opposed a contract extension that gives Superintendent Dan Stepenosky a 3 percent pay raise this year and a 4 percent hike in each of the next three years.

Stepenosky’s increase is more than what the teachers received following a recent negotiation, union representative Craig Hochhaus told The Acorn.

The superintendent will receive $225,000 this year and subsequent raises that will take his salary to $253,000 by 2020.

Stepenosky also gets an immediate $10,000 retention bonus.

Rich Lopez, a teacher at Calabasas High School, called the superintendent’s raise a “slap in the face” to teachers.

Hochhaus wasn’t happy, either.

“During contract negotiations this summer, the (school) district and board repeatedly expressed concern that a 1 to 2 percent increase (for teachers) would put the district into financial jeopardy even though its financial reserves hovered around 24 percent, far above the 3 percent minimum required by the State of California and substantially above local districts,” Hochhaus said.

“This is not about Dr. Stepenosky personally,” he said. “(The union) thinks he has done a good job; however, we are concerned that there is more focus on management retention rather than our increasing class sizes, benefit premiums and other living costs for employees. For example, many teachers pay over $8000 out-of-pocket for their family’s medical premiums and could really use a 4 percent raise for three years to help offset this and other costs.”

But the raise is warranted because Stepenosky’s success as an administrator has put him on the radar of other school districts looking to hire, the Las Virgenes board said.

“At a time when education is changing beyond all recognition . . . and somewhat going off the rails at the national level, stable leadership cannot be overvalued,” school board president Angela Cutbill said. “We are fortunate to have in place a dedicated leader who is connected to our community.”

Former Las Virgenes teacher and union president Sandra Pope told The Acorn that giving Stepenosky a raise because he has led the school district into the top 2 percent of schools statewide is a “demeaning . . . demoralizing . . . and downright ignorant” rationale.

Teachers in the district deserved much of that credit, she said.

“A 2 percent salary increase (for teachers) was approved just weeks earlier, but only after long, protracted negotiations where district representatives cried poverty,” Pope said. “After little or no public discussion, the board found money to pay off the superintendent in response to fear that he might leave. Everyone should get the same salary increase . . . without begging.”

“It’s disingenuous for the district to urge financial responsibility and restraint and then turn around and give a contract that is far more generous than what’s anticipated for classroom teachers, counselors, school psychologists . . . and other support personnel,” Hochhaus said.

School board member Dallas Lawrence said a change in state funding for public education has put pressure on local school district budgets, and that to “fairly compensate” teachers is difficult. The state, for example, recently shifted the burden of paying for teacher pensions back to local districts, Lawrence said. “We would have loved to have given the extra 2 percent to teacher (salaries), but it’s going to retirement (benefits).”

Board member Mathy Wasserman agreed that the school district having to now pay more for teacher pensions “really tied our hands.”

“We made up for the past when (Stepenosky’s) salary was not increased at the same rate as teachers,” Wasserman said.

Lawrence said the decision to boost Stepenosky’s salary by 4 percent came about by looking at the salaries of superintendents in neighboring districts, including Oak Park, Beverly Hills, Palo Alto and others.

“Our superintendent is not only in the bottom half, he’s near the bottom,” Lawrence said of Stepenosky’s current salary, and pointed out that he ranked 17 out of the 21 school districts that the board studied.

In the much smaller Oak Park school district, Superintendent Tony Knight earned $222,000 in 2015 compared to Stepenosky’s $225,000.

Knight said the Oak Park board of education aims to give equal raises to the superintendent, teachers and classified employees.

“For 2016-2017 my increase was 2.5 percent, which is what all employees received,” Knight said.“Ialsoreceiveda3percent longevity increase. . . . This is what all certificated employees get every four years, starting at year 14.”

Conejo Valley Unified School district interim superintendent Mark McLaughlin is paid $215,000.

Board members defended the Stepenosky pay raise.

Lesli Stein said all Las Virgenes employees are valued, and that the superintendent contract negotiation was “very transparent.”

“We believe in all our heart that Dr. Stepenosky is the right superintendent,” Stein said. “He attracts talent,” she said pointing to the new cabinet of professionals that have joined the district over the past year or two. “He’s not afraid to make changes (and) he listens.”

“It is an honor and privilege to be the Superintendent for Las Virgenes Unified,” Stepenosky said. “The teachers and staff are amazing and an inspiration. Seeing them in action is a joy. I’m extremely grateful for the trust and confidence placed in me by our board of education and for granting me the opportunity to serve in this capacity.”