Bad timing

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 30, 2012 09:57 am

The Baker School District Budget Board’s decision last week to endorse a series of pay raises for district administrators that was adopted last year is not without justification.

But the board’s timing could hardly be worse.

Less than a year after the district laid off employees, switched from a five-day to a four-day weekly schedule, and required staff, including administrators, to take three days off without pay, the board is acting as though the financial crisis, if not over, has abated considerably.

Last spring, around the same time the district was asking voters to increase their property taxes to help balance the district’s budget (a majority of voters said no), the board added three new “steps” to the seven-rung salary schedule for administrators.

“Steps,” when used in context of government payrolls, mean automatic pay raises, generally on a yearly basis.

The new steps for school district administrators are all at the top of the ladder.

Under the former seven-step schedule, Superintendent Walt Wegener’s salary topped out at $106,680 (his current salary is $102,537, slated to increase to $104,588 for the fiscal year that starts July 1).

Under the new 10-step plan, Wegener could, in theory, earn as much as $113,209 after four more years, when he would reach the top rung.

Those aren’t outlandish raises, to be sure — 2 percent per year.

Yet other local governments, such as Baker City, haven’t made such generous additions to their administrators’ salary schedules. And those agencies didn’t make changes nearly as significant as the school district’s switch to a four-day week, nor have they asked property owners to pay more in taxes.

City Manager Mike Kee doesn’t even have a salary schedule. And his pay for the new fiscal year will be the same as this year: $90,000.

We’re not saying we believe Wegener or any other school administrator is overpaid.

Surveys of comparably sized districts suggest they’re about in the middle, or, in Wegener’s case, well below average.

But coming so soon after the school district’s biggest financial upheaval in a long while, the budget board’s decision to rubber-stamp the three-step extension to administrators’ salary ladder surely must ring hollow in the ears of patrons still getting used to a district that’s ostensibly slimmed down.