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The school board should reconsider its pay proposal for the new superintendent

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Sometimes perception is more important than reality. That very well may be the case in the compensation package being proposed for the Dr. Douglas Schuch, the Bedford County School Board’s choice as its new superintendent.

    On Thursday, the school board is expected to approve its contract with the new superintendent, who will assume his duties July 1, taking over for retiring superintendent Dr. James Blevins. If approved as now proposed, Dr. Schuch would receive about a $5,000 salary increase over what Dr. Blevins is now making. The question, however, is what kind of a message is that sending to the other employees of the school system, all who will be going without a raise this year.

    According to the contract the board is considering, Dr. Schuch will be paid $140,000 for the 2009-2010 school year as compared to the $135,313 base salary Dr. Blevins is receiving this year. Had Dr. Blevins remained with the school system this year, he, like the system’s other employees, would not have received a raise because of the tight fiscal budget year, in which some positions are being eliminated altogether. The fact that the new superintendent will be paid more is not likely to sit well with some of the rank and file in the school system.

    And they have a point.

    As many as 80 positions were originally being proposed to be cut from the school system this year, but stimulus money recently approved by the federal government has helped reduce that number significantly. Still, some positions will be eliminated and the proposed budget calls for a freeze of all salaries in the school system. That freeze also includes annual step increases teachers normally receive for each year of service. In addition, there hasn’t been any proposed plan on how those step increases will be dealt with, or made up for, in the future.

    The debate of Dr. Schuch’s hiring has already led one school board member to resign and even this week some members of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors expressed concern over the school board’s choice, and the message the new contract sent out both to Dr. Blevins as well as the rest of the school system’s employees. The fact that the new superintendent will make more than Dr. Blevins, with 11 years of experience leading Bedford County schools, makes little sense.  Dr. Schuch, who has previously worked as a school teacher, assistant principal and part of the central office staff at Stafford County, does not have the track record of Dr. Blevins. By offering Dr. Schuch the job, the school board expressed confidence he will be able to take over and lead the school system in the coming four years and the hope here is he will be able to do just that.  But, at the very least, his contract should not exceed that of the current superintendent.

    So why pay him more?

    The thinking is that the school superintendent’s compensation here in the county is currently not comparable to other school divisions of similar size. In fact, the position has been advertised as paying as much as $165,000. But the reality is that all positions in the county’s school system fall below other divisions. Just in this area Bedford County ranks at or near the bottom of compensation for teachers. Giving the new superintendent a raise from what is currently being paid isn’t likely to sit well with some of those teachers who won’t be receiving any raise this year at all.  The school board, and its new superintendent, would do well to agree on a contract that doesn’t show a salary increase over what is being paid this year to Dr. Blevins.