Teachers, parents balk at superintendent’s contract

One by one, retired educators, parents and teachers stepped up to the mic at Brown County Intermediate School’s gymnasium May 23.

The theme of their comments was disbelief over what Brown County Schools will be paying its new superintendent, Laura Hammack.

Her contract includes a base salary of $125,000, plus a range of benefits such as annual performance stipends and a nearly $15,000 allowance for health insurance.

Outgoing Superintendent David Shaffer is making $139,000 a year plus benefits.

Sprunica Elementary School teacher Johanna Weinzapfel said the amount being paid the superintendent, coupled with the fact that teachers’ pay steps have been frozen since 2011, is a “kick in the teeth.”

“For over five years, I’ve made the same amount of money. My insurance is going up 20 percent, and I am on a free-and-reduced lunch program and textbooks program for my children,” she told the board.

“Currently, I am working on a different degree and going back to school, because at this rate I cannot plan for retirement; I cannot help my kids with college fees. This school district, which I love to work in and want to forever work for (Principal) Abbie Oliver and my cohorts here, but it’s a dead-end job for me.”

Speakers said they had no problem with hiring Hammack, who was not present at the meeting.

Their issues were with the details of the contract.

By law, the board must receive public comments on the contract at least seven days before it is signed.

Board members told the audience of about 20 people that they were there to receive input only and not to answer questions, but the audience continued to ask.

Base salary and bonuses

With the district facing a tight general fund budget, retired educator Sheila Oliver asked if Brown County Schools has the money to cover all of it.

Board members said the entire superintendent salary is already budgeted in the general fund, since it is less than Shaffer’s current salary.

A clause in Hammack’s contract also allows for the board to award her a $1 to $10,000 stipend and a $1 to $10,000 base pay raise each year if the board rates her as “effective” or “highly effective.”

In an interview May 25, school board President Judy Hardwick said it’s “not very likely” that the school board would choose to award a $10,000 stipend and a $10,000 base pay raise.

She said that range was added to the contract by suggestion from the board’s attorney, so that a new contract would not have to be drafted every time the board evaluated her.

Hardwick argued that the district is saving $5,577 by hiring Hammack, comparing the sum of Shaffer’s annuity and current salary to the sum of Hammack’s annuity and her base salary.

Oliver and other speakers also were suspicious that the property tax increase voters approved last month for Brown County Schools was passed to support the superintendent’s salary.

In 2011, teachers were “frozen” at their current salary step due to a new law against school districts operating in deficit financing — paying out more money than they are bringing in.

They also became subject to a performance rating system to be eligible for stipends and raises. Since the 2012-13 school year, they have received between $750 and $1,100 in stipends, and between $500 and $2,000 in base pay increases depending on their number of years in the district.

“Where is the savings for our teachers? Where do our teachers get a perk?” asked parent Robyn Bowman. “Because you passed the referendum, you waited to the day after the referendum to make it (Hammack’s hiring and contract) public, which I thought was very tacky. I feel you misinformed the public in general.”

The board disagreed.

Board members and Shaffer said the referendum was passed to give teachers raises and create a salary model that will show them what they can earn if they stick with the district and earn high ratings.

However, that model cannot be created until collective bargaining agreement negotiations begin in August and September, Shaffer said.

“From what I know, it’s in the process,” said board member Steve Miller Jr., promising to get that job done.

“I will resign my position before we go without addressing teacher contracts,” he said. “I want to keep all of our teachers.”

Job perks

One difference between Shaffer’s and Hammack’s contracts is their annuity amounts. Shaffer receives $11,577 in annuities; Hammack will receive $20,000.

Hardwick said the higher amount was a bargaining tool because the corporation wanted to persuade Hammack to leave her job as assistant superintendent of Beech Grove schools. She was earning $122,530 there, according to that district’s website.

Shaffer’s annuity schedule was set up five years ago, Hardwick said. If the board were to create another schedule for him, the amount would be closer to Hammack’s due to cost-of-living increases, she said.

The health insurance plan Hammack was offered is the same one Shaffer is enrolled in, Hardwick said — a family plan with a $2,000 deductible.

However, Hammack will not be taking the district’s insurance. So instead of paying $14,993 to an insurance company, the school board is choosing to pay the money to Hammack directly, Hardwick said.

“Are we setting a new precedent? If I don’t need insurance, would you give me money?” Sprunica teacher Rhonda Van Winkle asked the board.

That question was not answered.

Hardwick said later that not enrolling Hammack could be a cost-saver.

“Just this last year we had a catastrophic year because we had so many people that were sick. … If we can remove her from our insurance, then we don’t have to worry about paying claims on her.”

High hopes

The school board received 18 applications for this job, board member Tom Jackson said; that list was narrowed to six, and then three.

Hammack was the final candidate who met all of the board’s priorities, which included a history of successful leadership and experience in the central office and this district.

Hammack started her career here, working as a special education teacher, sixth-grade teacher, elementary school principal and assistant superintendent. After 13 years, she left to become the director of quality learners at Beech Grove Schools and eventually the assistant superintendent for seven years.

When the announcement was made, Hammack said she was happy to be coming “home.”

Her grant writing experience — she brought in $1.6 million to Beech Grove schools with two grants — the fact that she increased that district’s enrollment from 2,000 to 3,150 in five years by using a specific strategy; and her strong background in vocational education, dual-credit classes, Advanced Placement classes and alternative education for at-risk students are some factors that helped make the board’s decision.

Declining enrollment, and the state funding that leaves with those students, has plagued Brown County Schools in recent years. The district’s general fund had been operating in deficit financing for at least five years before getting back into the black in 2015.

“One of our hopes is we can reach and grab grants that would provide additional revenue to Brown County Schools,” Jackson said.

The school board was to vote on Hammack’s hiring at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 31 at Brown County Intermediate School.

Contract highlights

The final draft of the contract between Brown County School Board of Trustees and incoming Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack includes:

  • $125,000 base salary — which is in the 83rd percentile of schools with enrollment between 1,500 to 2,500 students, the school board said. Seventeen percent of school districts this size pay their superintendents more.
  • 20 vacation days
  • 12 sick leave days and transfer of 78 days from previous employer to sick leave bank; 74 others also will be transferred to be used for catastrophic personal or family illness, with no cash value
  • $14,993.47 additional annual pay to cover for health insurance, $915 for dental insurance and $99 for vision insurance
  • $250,000 term life insurance policy; superintendent pays $1
  • disability insurance; superintendent pays $1
  • $20,000 tax-sheltered annuity
  • mileage reimbursement
  • $1,080 annual cellphone stipend

Source: Brown County Schools