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Jump in pay for school job draws objection

January 14, 2001

Jump in pay for school job draws objection



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


The Washington County Board of Education plans to upgrade its public relations position with more responsibilities and a top salary range double what the job most recently paid, prompting an objection from a Washington County commissioner.

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The position of the community relations specialist, empty since November when Donna Messina was hired by the City of Hagerstown, will be eliminated. The upgraded title will be public information officer.

The job will pay between $53,046 to $73,128 a year, as opposed to Messina's salary of about $36,000 a year.

Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz is openly opposed to the upgrade, while Commissioner John Schnebly said the position is " fairly expensive." Commissioners have said they expect this coming budget to be the toughest to fund in years.

Swartz said that with the county facing a tight budget, he doesn't think now is the time to upgrade the position.

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"I think it's really bad that they would even consider a change like this," Swartz said. "We're at a time when we are looking for help from the Board of Education ... Then they come along and pull something like this. I'm strictly opposed to the request."

"Not only is it a slap in Donna's face, but the large increase ... certainly does not play with our attitude."

The county is the leading funding source for the Board of Education, but it does not have direct control over how the school system spends its money.

Phil Ray, the board's director of human resources, said more qualifications and responsibility explain the higher salary.

For example, the public information officer must have a bachelor's degree in a related field and at least three to five years of experience. The community relations specialist job description did not.

The upgraded position also includes such duties as setting annual public relations objectives, serving as speech writer for the superintendent, planning and supervising periodic polls of public opinion about the school system or education issues and speaking at public meetings about the schools.

Ray said the position of public information officer has existed before and schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett decided to reinstate it.

"It is an existing position that has been upgraded. We're not creating a new position," Ray said. "The superintendent sees there's a need there."

Bartlett could not be reached for comment.

Schnebly said he wants more information about the position before he can say whether he supports the upgrade. He agreed the budget would be tight and that the Board of Education should decide whether to spend money on the position now or "save your powder."

The deadline for applying for the job was Dec. 19. Ray said applicants are being screened and interviews should be set up soon. He expects to make recommendations to the School Board by its Feb. 6 business meeting.

The School Board can either vote on the appointment or take action to eliminate the position, Ray said.

School Board member Mary Wilfong said that a public information officer would help the school system get information to parents and the rest of the school community.

"It will help us. There's so much information in the schools that the public does not get in a timely fashion," Wilfong said. "It would serve the children better, and the community, to know more of what's happening. They really need guidance."

Wilfong has not made up her mind on how to vote.

School Board President J. Herbert Hardin said he doesn't know how he'll vote, but said the board should look over the position carefully. He's received about 15 to 20 phone calls and letters - some from community leaders - asking why the upgraded position is necessary, he said.

"People are really wondering why we need that, and why we would almost double the salary," Hardin said. "If we're cutting out buses, teachers' pay and administrators' pay, and we're adding this position at this new level of salary, it's something we have to look at really hard."

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