Holland: pay increase controversy was just bad timing

This is the final part of a three-part interview with outgoing Schools Superintendent Peter Holland. The first part of the interview can be read by clicking this link, and the second installment is available here. In this post, Peter and I talk about the recent controversy over pay raises to two school administrators: Assistant Superintendent Pat Aubin and Business Manager Gerry Missal.

This interview took place on June 13.

B2: We just had a big blow-up in the paper over the salaries of Mrs. Aubin and Mr. Missal. Probably an exampleo f what talk about. Tenor of thin was cert quite nasty. A couple questions: do you think that was handled badly by School Dept and SC – not in fact that pay increases granted, but in way it came out.

PH: I think it was. I think what happened is that there was a memo in which the Town Administrator asked for some information and it was shared at the time, but was not finalized. In fact even now it is not finalized. And I distinguish: Pat Aubin position was approved by School Committee and the salary set. Gerry Missal’s position has not been changed in the job description nor has there been any title or any salary increase granted to him.

Editor’s Note: As the Belmont Citizen Herald reported yesterday, Aubin and Missal both will receive pay increases: Aubin’s about 25% (from $140,000 to $180,000) for stepping up from Assistant Superintendent to Superintendent for next year. Missal will receive an approximately 8% pay increase for next year, postponing plans to retire to help the School Department with the transition to a new Superintendent and major projects like the pending Wellington Elementary reconstruction.

B2: Is that in jeapordy at this point?

PH: Well…it is yet to be done and I think it will be handled by the School Committee in terms of future agenda items at the end of the month. Assume when will be brought to them. The School Committee needs to approve the reorganized position and changed job description and set the parameters for that salary. I would then work it out according to the Massachusetts Ed Reform Act with the employee. I’m the Superintendent until the end of August, so I’d work that out.

B2: Just to clarify what happened: What was the School Committee’s thinking in the way it granted those salary increases?

PH: I think a number of things came together, from my point of view. This is part of me and my love affair with Belmont. I signed a contract in 1999 that went to 2005 with the indication that at that time I assumed I would be retiring. In 2005 the School Committee asked me what I wanted to do. I felt good and talked to my wife. And we said “let’s stay.” At that time I signed a two year contract. So I signed that and felt good about that. But I intended to retire in 2007. My wife said ‘I don’t know if you’re ready to retire,” I wasn’t sure if I was ready either. I felt like ‘I like what I’m doing. I like the town and the town approves of what I’m doing. Why not stay?’ At that time I said ‘Why not stay for one year. So I signed a two year contract with the understanding that I might not make it until 2009. I started on this year and about half way through I said ‘It may be time for me to retire.’

B2: Did that thought have anything to do with the budget debate, by any chance?

PH: (Laughs). It probably did. It probably did. I started thinking ‘You know, 20 is a nice round numer.’ But the School Committee said ‘You have to let us know.’ So in February, right before vacation, I told them that it was a good time for me to end my tenure. They asked me to stay on until August. So I felt that was the best for me, but it did leave the School Committee short. Six months is just not enough time to do a search for a new Superintendent. There are all these way in which the Superintendent has become more complicated and political and financial and regulatory. And so on. At that time, Pat Aubin intended to retire in June of 2008. The School Committee chatted with her and she indicated she was OK to come in. If the School Committee had to appoint someone to come in, they would be paying in vicinity of my total compensation, which is $185,000. So they made the determination to offer her $180,000 which I think is very reasonable. She’s extremely experienced: she has 15 years as Assistant Superintendent and knows the district well. She wont’ have to spend 1not spend six months learning the school distict and who the people are. She’s very astute intrapersonally and politically. I think she’ll be great and I have full confidence in her. What the School Committee opted for is stability and continuity in the middle of a tumultuous time.

I wasn’t aware that, at that point, Gerry Missal was thinking of retiring, too. And part of it is this is like the storm of these things coming together. All of us retiring at the same time, and one of our principals is near retirement too: Bruce McDonald, who said he could possibly retire this year, but probably next year. So Pat and  he would be a year ahead. They haven’t filed for it yet, but that’s pretty much what it looks like. So then with Gerry Missal being qualified, the School Committee felt like they needed to address that. They met with Gerry and talked to him about it. The talked to me, and I felt it made sense to continue to have Gerry Missal’s expertise in finance and business. We’ve got a new Wellington School to get built and plans for the High School and a number of projects that require someone who is really is well versed in finance and facility development. So I think that’s a piece of it but, as I say, that that piece not been done yet. I think there’s agreement that that’s what’s right for Belmont and the School Committee had to make that hard decisions and some people disagree with that. My feeling is, fair enough, people agree or disagree, but in terms of knowing what the school system needs and perserving continuity and stabilility — it’s important and I think the employees appreciate it. I think we have a very productive and competent and outstanding group of teachers and administrators. I think they appreciate continuity. I think its good for the kids and the school system. Clearly, its right for School System, but its the School Committee’s decision and they make the decisions.

B2: from the political standpoint was there a way to go to the Selectmen or Town Administrator and say “We want you to know about this…”?

PH: Hidnsight is 20/20. I think there were ways, in retrospect, to talk to folks about this. I think the School Committee looked at their charge which is to maintain the best public school system they can with the resources and contraints of the town. One thing the (Belmont Citizen Herald) said was ‘this costs tons of money,’ blah, blah, blah. The Chairman of the Board of Selectmen said that as well, but I predict when the numbers come in, the district wil have — on a one year basis only — a savings on administrative salaries. Because one of the positions we’er not filling completely is the Assistant Super position will be filled from English Department Curriculum Director (Dennis Fitzpatrick).

Editors Note: School Committee Chairman John Bowe said that he did anticipate savings in overall administrative salaries this year, with Fitzpatrick making $127,500 to act as Assistant Superintendent, compared with $144,000 for Aubin last year, and Aubin making roughly $14,000 less next year than Holland would have, had he stayed on.