Some Entirely Unsolicited Advice for the Helena School Board

The Helena Independent Record is reporting that the Helena School Board plans to address compensation for the next District Superintendent at Tuesday night’s meeting and I have a bit of advice: don’t increase the Superintendent’s compensation any more than you plan to increase compensation for every other employee group in the District.

By all accounts, Helena had an effective educational leader in former Superintendent Bruce Messinger, who received  compensation just under $145,000 when salary and benefits were combined.

If that salary was enough to retain an excellent Superintendent for fourteen years, surely it will be sufficient to attract qualified and energetic candidates to replace him. To argue that Helena needs to dramatically increase compensation for its next Superintendent will send the wrong message about our priorities as a district and community.

Being a Superintendent of a relatively large school district is certainly a challenging and time-consuming task, but so is teaching in our classrooms, cleaning our schools, driving our buses, and all the others tasks that go into educating children and preparing facilities for their work.

Missoula went through this recently, extending its Superintendent a ten per cent raise and increased benefits the same year teachers received a raise of less than one per cent. The Board justified the move, arguing that those at the top of the pay scale deserve larger raises than those in classrooms:

"We knew we were going to take heat for this," said board trustee Nancy Pickhardt. "But all I can say is that from our point of view, this is the trend in education. It’s performance-based pay and it starts at the top.

Let’s learn from Missoula’s move, which created animosity between employee groups and generated a great deal of negative publicity in the community. Now is certainly not the time to tell the people of Helena that $145,000 a year isn’t enough money.

Let’s compensate our next Superintendent well and let’s hire a dynamic, tireless advocate for schools and students, but do it within  a reasonable budget.