D209 Administrator’s $24K Pay Raise Prompts Worker Backlash

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

During a July 16 regular meeting, the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Board of Education approved raises and promotions for three high-level administrators, each of whom will assume additional responsibilities. But the raise of one administrator struck a chord with some dissenting board members and lower paid workers.  

The three raises also generated considerable back-and-forth between some board members about the appropriateness of administrative pay, with claims of board micromanagement reminiscent of those made back in April 2018 — the last time D209 Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez proposed substantial staff restructuring and administrative pay raises.

At the July 16 meeting, the board voted 5-1 in favor of a pay raise for Brandon Gale, the district’s lead security manager. Della Patterson voted against the raise while Theresa Kelly abstained. Gale, who has been at the district for 17 years, received a 6 percent salary increase, with his pay rising to $90,601.

The board voted 4-3 in favor of a pay raise for Cynthia Moreno, who will be promoted from communications coordinator to the district’s director of public relations and outreach. Sam Valtierrez, Amanda Grant and Patterson voted against the raise. Moreno, who has been at the district for two years, got a 35 percent salary increase — her pay going from $68,000 to $91,807.

The board voted unanimously in favor of a pay raise for L.T. Taylor, the district’s lead building manager. Taylor, who has been at the district for 22 years, received a 22 percent salary increase — his pay rose to $104,100.

The salary increases are in alignment with a new compensation framework that the board unanimously adopted during the July 14 meeting. The framework is designed to equalize the salaries of administrators in the same positions within the district, officials said. Taylor’s previous salary was deemed “irrefutably inequitable” while Moreno’s salary brings her up to the low-end of compensation levels recommended for non-certified directors in the district, according to the new framework.

The pay raises occurred just a few hours after at least four D209 maintenance workers and support staffers — nurses, teachers assistants, security and more — spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting about their meager paychecks, which, for many of the workers, aren’t enough to cover health insurance. The workers said they felt disrespected for having to haggle with the district about pay increases ranging between 1 percent and 4 percent while administrators received much larger pay raises. 

Marcia Watson, a dean’s secretary at Proviso West who is also vice president of Proviso Support Staff Council, zeroed in on Moreno’s pay increase, lambasting the district’s decision to “offer to pay someone $91,000 with two years’ experience — less than what we’re giving a dean with a doctorate degree who had to fight for that $90,000 from this very same board.”

“Here we go again giving someone [a roughly $24,000 pay raise] and yet I can’t give my people any feedback saying what we can do to help them,” said Denise Daniels, a union representative at Proviso West who is also on the executive board of SEIU Local 73. “This has to stop.”

Patterson echoed the workers’ concerns. Again, zeroing in on Moreno, Patterson said that the increase was not justified.

“At no time have I said it was OK to go along and give this type of money when we have teachers, people with two master’s degrees, a doctoral degree, and they’re only making $89,000, and we pay someone $91,807 to take pictures,” Patterson said.  

“I sat with you, Marsha, and told you we didn’t have money,” Grant said. “I did. That’s what I believed. I’m sorry.”

Valtierrez said that he voted against Moreno’s pay raise, because he felt that going from coordinator to director missed a step.

“The reason I don’t agree with the superintendent on this is because this person used to be a coordinator and the next step is manager before director,” Valtierrez said. “That’s the only reason. And the salary is a little too high on that.”

But other board members pushed back against the assertions that Moreno didn’t deserve the pay raise or that her raise came at the expense of lower paid workers.

Board President Ned Wagner, along with members Claudia Medina and Rodney Alexander praised the work of all three administrators, Moreno in particular.

“I’m in favor of approving this particular item,” Wagner said of Moreno’s increase. “I’m looking forward to having an ever-more effective communication program.”

“The one employee in question I know for a fact sometimes works seven days a week,” said Alexander, referring to Moreno.

“There are several of us on this board who feel that each one of the people who have been recommend have done an extraordinary job,” said Medina.

Alexander added that “the work of these three speaks for itself,” and reminded his fellow board members that they already gave Rodriguez the discretion to structure his administration how he wants. Alexander added that the pay raises were revenue neutral.

“There’s not necessarily an apples to apples comparison” between the salaries and contracts of non-unionized administrators and those of unionized employees, most of whom, he said, are feeling the effects of unfair contracts that were authorized by boards that were in place before 2015. He added that the process for increasing salaries also differs between non-unionized administrators and unionized employees.

“I wasn’t sitting on this board when you guys got shafted by bad contracts and bad deals years ago, and that we’re now trying to pull this district out of,” Alexander said.

During a presentation at the July 16 meeting, Rodriguez said that, since 2016, the board and administration have successfully negotiated contracts with all three of the district’s bargaining units — Proviso Teachers Union Local 571, Proviso Support Staff Council and Proviso & Custodial Maintenance Union SEIU Local 173 — but that more work needed to be done.

Rodriguez said that his administration and the current board understands the concerns of the district’s unionized employees, and that they were working on repairing “the damage that was created before this group of people was on the board.” He said that “sometimes we may need two or three contract negotiations in order to get there.”

With the July 16 vote, Moreno was promoted from communications coordinator to director of communications and community outreach. Rodriguez first proposed the promotion to the board last April. Moreno’s salary would have increased from $68,000 a year to $105,000 a year. In addition, Rob Daniels, a program analyst, would have been reclassified as a digital media specialist — a move that would have entailed a salary increase from $50,000 to $55,000.

At the time, Rodriguez said that the new positions were consistent with the creation of a new department that Moreno would lead and that would include more English-Spanish translation, among other enhancements. The board, however, voted against the proposal 4-3.

“We’ve been here before,” Alexander — referencing Rodriguez’s second attempt to restructure his administration’s communications program — during the July meeting. “We were not elected to run the district. We were elected to support the superintendent.” VFP

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