Helena Public Schools officials are reconsidering parts of a new compensation matrix that raised minimum salaries for some administrative positions by more than $40,000.
School district superintendent Rex Weltz said the new administrative compensation matrix was implemented in June 2021, just before replacing former superintendent Tyler Ream. Because the school district’s fiscal year does not end until June 30, the increases were paid retroactively to administrative employees for the 2020-21 school year and remain in place for the 2021-22 school year.
The new pay scale was intended to help the school district attract and retain quality administrative staff, Weltz said.
“There was a really good manager here and he ended up moving to another AA district in the state and making $20,000 to $25,000 more, and it was concerning for the district to lose talent,” said he declared. “It’s an effort to retain the right people and get quality candidates to come to us.”
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However, Weltz said he fears the new compensation matrix will tip the scales too much at the director level. Although he must consider employment law, Weltz said, he and the school district’s legal counsel are working on a new compensation matrix that would reduce the total compensation paid to certain high-level administrative employees.
“I want people to know that I’m not comfortable with where it landed,” he said. “I didn’t build the model, but I’m here to make it right.”
The administrative salary matrix applies to all school district administrators except the superintendent, whose annual salary of $172,500 was negotiated separately. Positions included in the matrix are Assistant Superintendents, Director of Finance, Chief of Staff, Senior Director of Human Resources, Athletic Director, Director of Programs, Director of Special Education, Director of Technology , the facilities manager, managers and assistant managers.
At the lower end of the matrix, the salary range for a college assistant principal fell from $80,837 to $100,522 to $96,500 to $109,474, depending on years of service.
At the top end of the matrix, the salary range for the chief of staff and two assistant superintendents is now $139,880 to $156,000. Previously, the salary range was $99,340 to $119,008 for chief of staff and $101,578 to $121,957 for assistant superintendents.
Salaries for the Director of Finance and Senior Director of Human Resources now start at $135,200, but also cap out at $156,000. Previously, the salary range was $88,526 to $108,211 for both positions.
All Helena administrators are required to have a master’s degree, and an additional $2,000 per year stipend is available to those who earn a doctorate.
By comparison, the salary range for the highest-paid administrators in Billings Public Schools, excluding superintendent, is $110,415 to $122,850. Positions in this range include CFO and Executive Directors of Curriculum, Education, Human Resources, Special Education, Adult Education, Facilities, Indian Education , activities and technology.
According to athletic director Tim McMahon, who has worked for Helena Public Schools since 1988, the new pay matrix was intended to bring daily pay rates in line with the average of comparable positions in Montana’s AA school districts. But many Helena administrators are hired to work more days than their counterparts in other school districts and therefore receive a higher annual salary, he said.
At Billings, nine trustees are on contract for 255 days and only the superintendent is on contract for 260. Helena has 15 trustees on contract for the 260 days, including the superintendent, two assistant superintendents, two middle school principals, two high school principals, the Chief of Staff and Directors of Finance, Human Resources, Athletics, Curriculum, Special Education, Technology and Facilities.
Weltz said he plans to reduce the number of contract days for some of the top positions. It does not provide for any immediate changes to contract days or pay scales for director or assistant director positions, he said.
“When I was a high school principal, I liked the 260 (contract days),” Weltz said. “There was a lot of work to do in the summer, so I enjoyed that.”
All staff at Helena Public Schools are also accumulating paid time off, he said.
Weltz said Helena’s administrative salary matrix has been stagnant for many years, which partly explains the current steep increases.
“When you don’t pay attention to it for years, making an adjustment to be competitive is a big job,” he said.
School district school board chair Luke Muszkiewicz said he fully supports the market analysis that led to the new administrative compensation matrix, which was presented to the school district’s budget and finance committee in spring 2021. He said the school board was not required to vote on the new compensation matrix, but trustees were told Ream decided to move forward in mid-June 2021.
“This communication included the new daily rates for each position at each level of the matrix. This did not include corresponding annual salaries,” Muszkiewicz said. “I do not believe this was an intentional omission as the daily rate is a standard unit of pay in public education, but I believe it has prevented administrators from anticipating the difficult situation we find ourselves in, to know that some of these resulting annual salaries are probably too high compared to our AA peers.
Muszkiewicz added that he is “confident that current Superintendent Rex Weltz is working diligently to correct the problem as soon as possible, which is my expectation, and I believe the Commission is as well.”
Helena Public Schools also revamped its teacher compensation matrix, which came into effect at the start of the current school year in July 2021.
Under the old system, a teacher could reach the top of the salary scale by working for a certain number of years. The new matrix pays teachers based on a combination of longevity and education level.
No teachers received a pay cut as a result of these changes, Weltz said.
In 2019, Ream said staff salaries alone accounted for 90% to 95% of the school district’s budget and the high salary would not be sustainable in the long term. The school district offered early retirement incentives to nearly 40 veteran teachers in 2020, saving about $280,000.
Today, Weltz said staff salaries make up about 92% to 93% of the $62 million general fund budget, and he would like to bring it down to 90%. He said school district officials planned to increase administrative salaries when they made their budget projections several years ago, and he believes the budget will be sustainable.
“We have a very capable business leader,” he said.
Weltz said pay scales will be reviewed annually to ensure the numbers stay within school district goals “so that we don’t get left behind and then strive to make adjustments when it’s too far out.” .”
“How do you reduce these percentages? It’s all part of the analysis every year when we go through the budgets,” he said.
Editor Jesse Chaney can be reached at 406-447-4074, or find him on Twitter: @IR_JesseChaney.