Pay grade system started

Current and future administrative staff employees of the Altoona Area School District will have their salaries based on a new policy adopted by the school board in the wake of the board’s pay raise investigation that found Superintendent Dennis Murray had given unauthorized raises to 10 employees and himself.

The investigation began because there was no guide the board could point to when administrators recommended employee salary changes, President Ryan Beers said.

The Altoona Area school board passed a base pay policy on Monday that Beers said was its legal counsel Levin Legal Group’s first and foremost recommendation coming from the firm’s investigation. He said more recommendations will likely come.

“I don’t know what the going rate for a clerical rate or principal rate is, so when the administration makes a recommendation, I’d like to have something to say, ‘here’s what we look to pay somebody who has ‘x’ number years of experience and what their job qualifications are,’ so we have something definitive. So it takes the rule out of one person’s hand to say ‘I want someone’s salary to be ‘x’ or I want it to be this.’ That way if any employee has a question they can come in and sit down and we can justify ‘well here is where you are and why you are being paid what you are being paid,'” Beers said.

The board has been seeking to establish pay grades for the past three years, since Beers raised questions about a secretary’s salary, he said.

In 2010, the board voted to approve Pam Waddell’s move from confidential secretary to administrative assistant to the superintendent at a salary “as per Act 93 agreement,” the meeting agenda stated. That lack of a salary figure didn’t sit well with Beers, who said he later found Waddell’s increase to be about five times more than he could have expected by the Act 93 agreement.

However, Murray’s attorneys have stated that the board publicly approved Waddell’s salary increase as part of her promotion from the lower paid position to the higher paid position.

A month after that 2010 public meeting, Beers requested Act 93 employee salaries to see how much Waddell was making in her new position and found that when compared to corresponding compensation agreements, Waddell had a $9,598 salary increase or a 23.8 percent increase when the Act 93 plan called for a 4 percent increase.

Murray’s attorneys said Waddell’s salary was earned.

“Ms. Waddell was paid less than the person she was replacing, and within the range established by a salary study commissioned and adopted by the board in 2000 and still in place today.”

Beers said he believes there was a study done around 2000 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and that study was to be used as a gauge for salaries, but he doesn’t know that it was utilized.

Murray’s attorney’s statement continued: “Ms. Waddell also took on more responsibility than her predecessor, because at the same time that she was promoted to administrative assistant, the confidential secretary position in the superintendent’s office was eliminated by Dr. Murray to save AASD [more than] $30,000. As with all of the other AASD employees whose salaries have been scrutinized, Ms. Waddell earned the raise that she was given.”

Beers said the new system is to establish a guide so that raises, if they truly are earned, aren’t decided by one person. He said that during his four years on the board since 2010, the board has had no third-party guide to determine any salary increase recommended by the administration for any administrative employee.

“We are looking to implement a merit-based system,” Beers said.

The base pay scale, based on a study conducted by HR Consultants Inc. in 2010 is the first step in establishing that system. The base pay scale marks an approximate target salary for an administrative employee of a certain pay grade and years of service. The board is also developing a performance-based scale that will come later, Beers said.

HR Consultants compared salaries of several school districts including Williamsport and State College. The comparison looked at size, demographics, economic factors, job description for each position on the scale, Beers said.

“[The base pay scale] gives us a judgment tool. It’s not saying everybody is going to make this amount,” he said.

“If you are above the range – if you are eight years in a position and we say you should be making $88,000 but you are making $108,000, you are clearly above where we say you ought to be, so how do we not continue to grow that amount as large as what we would have? On the flip side, if we have someone 10 years in the position but only making $75,000, it allows us to give consideration to say ‘OK based on performance and other factors, what are we going to talk about to get somebody where we think they should be for that position?'”

Levin Legal Group attorney Paul Cianci made his investigation results public earlier this month. The board and Murray’s attorneys have also been briefed on an auditor general investigation that is to be made public in about three to four weeks.