D.J. Suchocki

Tenth Street School Principal D.J. Suchocki addresses the Anderson Community Schools board Friday evening concerning contracts. “If I’m not worth the money, please, let me know. If not, then I don’t deserve to be in that leadership spot,” he said.

ANDERSON – The Anderson Community Schools administration and the Anderson Federation of teachers on Friday made a joint announcement that they have reached a tentative agreement to give teachers a one-time $2,000 stipend plus a 1.5% recurring raise.

The district also has tentatively agreed to give administrators only the stipend, breaking several decades of precedent and leaving many administrators feeling underappreciated.

“Rumors were rampant that we weren’t giving any raises or bonus for the administrative staff,” said ACS board President Patrick Hill.

The announcement came during a specially called meeting of the ACS board of trustees, a new statutory requirement ahead of Tuesday’s regular board meeting where the new teacher contract is expected to be approved. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the ACS administrative center, 1600 Hillside Ave.

The tentative agreement addresses only pay. Though school districts have not been required to address working conditions for several years, ACS and the AFT earlier this year agreed on a handbook after nine months of negotiations.

AFT President G. Randall Harrison said he went into the contract negotiations believing the district was relatively flush with money because of a $1.8 million recurring operations referendum approved by voters in May 2018. ACS officials said the referendum was necessary because of low-level funding by the state and property tax caps.

“Without that, there very well likely would not have been anything to put on the bargaining table,” Hill said. He added that the board and administrators will get together in January to determine where $2 million in cuts can be made.

However, ACS also lost about 140 students this school year, significantly reducing the amount of money the district will receive from the state. Districts receive a specified amount per student.

As a result, Harrison said, the AFT put the district’s fiscal health and the best interests of the students ahead of higher pay for teachers.

“The AFT was cognizant of that impact, and we were very reasonable going into the negotiations,” Harrison said. “In tough times, we came through with what we think was a reasonable settlement. We were being frugal to protect referendum dollars in case next year we lose another 140 students.”

He assured the audience that any action of the union never is intended to be detrimental to stakeholders not served by it.

“It is not an entity that wants to take money out of anybody’s pocket,” he said. “When the union sees anybody lose a job, it stinks. If the union sees anybody doesn’t get money, it stinks. We have never batted an eye when we bargained that the administration got the same thing.”

ACS board member Jean Chaille touched off the discussion about raises for administrators, with an impassioned speech criticizing her fellow board members for their belief that only certified and noncertified staff could be given raises under the operations referendum. Administrators include principals and assistant principals, assistant superintendents, the chief operations and financial officers, and directors, assistant directors and supervisors of a variety of departments.

However, she asserted, the actual wording of the referendum question makes no such limitation.

“For this board to take the narrow view that the $1.8 million referendum money is only to be used for raises for certified and noncertified is disingenuous,” she said. “This is a story that was told to the union-represented employees but not what the general public voted to approve in the referendum. I believe that this board is using this story as a way to withhold raises for the administrators.”

Chaille said administrators are entitled to higher pay than teachers because of their increased responsibilities as district leaders and because of the advanced educations that often come with that.

“For many decades, the raises that were bargained for the certified and non-certified staff were also applied to the administrative staff,” she said. “This practice was a way to indicate that all staff was valued in the positions that they held and the services that they performed. This also helped to promote good working relations between all staff members.”

But board members Diane Airhart and Holly Renz defended their positions.

Airhart said it was unfair to give administrators a percentage because their salaries already are higher than those of teachers, which widens the pay gap.

“We have to look at other ways to give fair, equitable raises without using percentages,” she said.

Renz agreed the district had set a 40-year precedent of giving administrators the same raises as certified and noncertified staff but never had an obligation to do so.

“That doesn’t mean precedents can’t be broken,” she said. “It does not mean that administrators will never receive a raise because they will.”

Though members of the cabinet typically sit alongside the board at meetings, most cabinet members in attendance Friday sat in the audience with the principals and other administrators.

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Jan Koeniger defended the need for administrator raises for those who work in the school buildings.

“If you didn’t have them in those buildings, those buildings wouldn’t run,” she said. They deserve you guys to realize their importance. If we didn’t have these people, you’d be in a world of hurt.”

D.J. Suchocki, principal at Tenth Street Elementary School, told the board that after coming in before his staff in the mornings, he often goes home about 5 p.m. to spend a couple of hours with his family before getting on his Chromebook and working till 11 p.m.

“If I’m not worth the money, please, let me know. If not, then I don’t deserve to be in that leadership spot,” he said. “We’re human beings. Heck yeah, we’re not going to feel valued about it.”

Suchocki, who noted he is a product of ACS, said he is $16,000 in debt because he made a decision to continue his education to become a leader.

“We are not on the dark side. I am not going anywhere.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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