Friday, January 26, 2007

U-46 board should dump too generous offer to Neale

The following editorial appeared in the January 26th, 2007 edition of the Daily Herald. The editorial staff is correct and school boards across the state should take to heart the message in this editorial. It times for boards to tell both administrators and staff to stuff it.

U-46 board should dump too generous offer to Neale
The definitions and details may be in dispute, but there’s absolutely no doubt the Elgin Area District U-46 Board of Education has tentatively approved a 2006-07 superintendent compensation package for Connie Neale that will exceed $400,000.
The board, which has firsthand experience with financial trouble, appears to have developed a sad case of fiscal responsibility amnesia and forgotten the sacrifices made by many along the way.

Consternation over his own acquiescence last Saturday in the large pay-out drove school board member Daniel Rich of Elgin to resign Monday night, saying he felt it was excessive and the result of a “shakedown” of the board by Neale. Rich said Neale said she might leave if she didn’t get what she wanted.

Neale said Tuesday she never made such a threat. But board members acknowledged they spent part of their Saturday discussing a possible superintendent succession plan, something they wouldn’t have done without the possibility of a Neale departure on the table, especially given their glowing review of her performance.

Neale also contended in public statements that she doesn’t negotiate with the board about her pay package, but only provides context.

“I didn’t say I deserved anything,” she told a Daily Herald reporter. But her own words, as found in the submission she gave board members, argue differently.

“I believe those are remarkable feats and more than justify this special recognition,” said her statement to the board regarding an “Immediate Performance Bonus” of 10 percent to 20 percent.

“I believe that doesn’t fairly represent my work or the challenge of U-46,” Neale said of her salary in the “Immediate Salary Realignment” portion of her submission, where she noted she was significantly underpaid compared to other superintendents. If those aren’t arguments that she deserves more, what exactly are they?

And what were those “remarkable feats” Neale identified as deserving of a bonus? Elimination of the deficit and all elementary schools making annual yearly progress in 2006.

Yes, those are laudable accomplishments, and we’ve said so in this space. But they also are the duties for which she was already being paid handsomely. The school board fell victim to Neale’s “this is the market for superintendents” sales pitch and failed to ask the far more pertinent question: Can we afford this market and the financial expectations it will raise across the district?

Though the answer to that question clearly is “no,” the board agreed to a $20,000 raise from a salary of $242,000 to a salary of $262,000, backdated to last July. It OK’d a 10 percent tax-free bonus on top of that, another $26,200 or so plus the tax bill. That $46,200 increase would represent about a 19 percent hike for the year. That’s not likely to sit well with district employees who believe they’re the ones doing the real work. Nor will it sit well with Elgin taxpayers whose 2005 median annual household income of $51,232 would barely exceed Neale’s increase alone.

And those numbers don’t include the additional $133,000 or so tax dollars that will fund Neale’s time-in-service step increase, multiple pension plans, a retirement bonus, multiple insurance plans and automobile expenses.

Neale is, of course, free to ask for anything she likes in terms of compensation. But she ought not be offended if the public responds to her request by noting her greed and her lack of interest in its ability to pay. For bowing to those demands without a whimper, though, the school board is wholly responsible.

Board members also seem to have forgotten it was Neale who led them into the morass of a multimillion-dollar discrimination lawsuit, not because of overt discrimination during boundary discussions so much as disregard for residents of all colors. That behavior hasn’t been forgotten, and apparently hasn’t changed.

Still, the board is ultimately responsible for contract terms. It must reverse course before this deal is finalized and make a deal with which the public can live, even if it means Neale’s departure.

Quote of the day.
"Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough." Janwillem van de Wetering

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