Philipsburg-Osceola school board member proposes salary ceiling for administrators

Jim Verbeck wants to know what the Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District principals and other staff members make — and why.

The P-O board member surprised his colleagues and administrators with the request at the end of Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I think we as a board should have a conversation about salaries,” he said, calling for a salary schedule that would set a top and bottom limit for what administrators and other employees not covered by union contracts could make.

“I’m not saying what it should be,” he said, “but we should discuss it.”

The move comes after several changes in administration in recent months.

The board saved a third of the salary of former district head Stephen Benson when Gregg Paladina came on board as superintendent this summer with a $105,000 paycheck. Within the last month, Osceola Mills Elementary Principal Susan Pritchard-Harris was hired at a cost of $75,000, and Kelly Rees to be assistant principal at the new P-O Middle School for $55,500.

Paladina was sympathetic to Verbeck’s cost-saving emphasis, but also defended his staff.

“I understand controlling expenses,” he said, but added, “Compared to State College, our principals are significantly underpaid.”

He also said that with a codified schedule that puts salaries for those employees into a matrix similar to the teachers’ contract, the district might actually see costs go up as administrators such as new high school Principal Robin Stewart, whose tenure as an administrator goes back more than 20 years, might see greater increases than they have historically.

The conversation comes up as the board will soon be presented with an Act 93 plan for those few employees, many of them principals, not covered by union contracts. Paladina said the plan does request “modest raises” for the group, which did have a pay freeze last year.

But Verbeck, who said the average salary of a P-O resident is about $20,000, said “Some of the salaries I’m looking at are, in my mind, exorbitant.”

Business manager Michael Conte had estimated a higher pay raise for the Act 93 employees than will be presented when planning the budget.

“It’s a higher level of responsibility,” he said to Verbeck of the positions versus jobs with a $20,000 paycheck.

Paladina said some district teachers earn more than some of the administrators.

“I’m not saying they’re not worth it. I’m delighted that people are starting to work together and don’t want to pour water on the fire,” said Verbeck, who said he still wants a system that shows a top step with no further increases.

“What about cost of living?” asked personnel committee Chairwoman Linda Bush.

Verbeck dismissed that concern, saying principals were among the highest-paid people in the community. He said he wants a defined ceiling.

“This is what the top person makes, and if they don’t like it, you have to go look for a better job somewhere else,” he said. “I know not everyone is going to agree with it, but we need to consider it.”