Published in the December 15, 2016 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
NORTH READING — The school department is going to award $11,250 in stipends to eight school administrators for “special projects” undertaken, but the practice looks to be coming to an end.
Superintendent of School Jon Bernard recently proposed awarding the stipends to school administrators for working on several different initiatives, but the discussion was tabled after the school board raised concerns. Bernard revisited the matter on Monday and said he would like to award the stipends.
Bernard said the $11,250 in stipends will be paid from funds from different associated activities as part of the school department’s fiscal year 2017 budget. He said each administrator’s contract includes a provision that allows administrators to receive a stipend.
According to data from the school department, High School Principal Anthony J. Loprete will receive a $1,500 stipend for work involving the secondary schools building project. Middle School Principal Catherine O’Connell will also be awarded a $1,500 stipend for doing work associated with the school project.
High School Assistant Principal Michael Downs and Middle School Assistant Principal Michael Maloney will each receive a $1,500 stipend for working on school safety and security initiatives. Mahoney will also be awarded a $1,000 stipend for serving as after school activity coordinator.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly will receive a $1,500 stipend for leading the School Start Times Advisory Committee. Finance Director Michael Connelly will be awarded a $1,500 stipend for working with the Athletic Facilities Committee and Little School playground project.
Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Director Cynthia Conant will be receiving a $1,500 stipend for serving as the school system’s 504 coordinator. Hood School Principal Glen McKay will be awarded a $750 stipend for the school garden and agriculture study project.
School Committee member Mel Webster expressed his support for awarding the stipends, but said school officials need to discuss the longstanding practice in the future.
“I support a lot more discussion moving forward with these being in the contracts,” said Webster. “When I am looking at our budgets and our struggles, I sometimes have a hard time giving extra amounts. I am not saying the staff isn’t doing the work, but I say to myself why don’t teachers and cafeteria workers have these in their contracts.”
Bernard agreed with Webster’s sentiment. He noted administrator contracts have different types of provisions related to areas such as longevity. He said he defines a special project as an initiative “that is new and beyond the scope of (an administrator’s) normal duties.”
“It would be my desire to start to phase these out from administrator contracts because this process is very embarrassing quiet honestly,” said Bernard. “As I start to work with the administrators on negotiating their individual contracts, I would like to start to phase (stipends) out.”
School Committee Vice Chairman Jerry Venezia said he values the work school administrators do, but said he is concerned about awarding stipends due to the school department’s budget.
“The contract doesn’t require it,” said Venezia. “It’s an option. It doesn’t have to go to the School Committee and doesn’t require a vote by the School Committee. We have always discussed it publicly so people know what we are doing. We don’t have to do that and in the past, we have received some criticism for it. I don’t think there is anything to be embarrassed about. Having said that, I am concerned about the budget situation that we have. I am hoping we would establish a baseline going forward of being extremely conservative with dealing with our contracts and compensation so we can get through this budget season. It’s nothing with them not deserving it and I appreciate everything that they do. I am just concerned about the budget and the message we send as we go forward into budget season.”
School Committee Chairman Cliff Bowers said most professionals receive just a salary and don’t receive stipends.
“I have never looked for anything more than a salary or thought I deserved anything more than that,” said Bowers. “I don’t have a problem paying (administrators) for what their value is and the job that they do, but I believe as a professional it should be their salary and that is it.”