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Byers says school board didn't OK salary for position

February 01, 2001

Byers says school board didn't OK salary for position



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Neither the previous nor the current Washington County Board of Education agreed to the salary posted for an upgraded public relations position, and a discussion about the job was held behind closed doors, according to former School Board member B. Marie Byers.

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In addition, School Board President J. Herbert Hardin said the current board has not discussed the position, but may do so at a public work session as early as Tuesday.

Byers said the previous School Board met in executive session on Nov. 28 and discussed Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett's request to upgrade the vacant community relations specialist position to that of public information officer.

Byers, as a member of the previous board, attended the executive session.

She said the board agreed that a public relations job was necessary, and that the salary range discussed was to be between $36,000 to $44,000 per year.

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A few days later, when the new School Board took office, she found out that the job's salary was posted at $53,046 to $73,128 per year.

"I was furious," Byers said. "It's really so wrong what has occurred. It's quite out of line with our other professionals. That's ridiculous."

Byers said board members Doris Nipps, Mary Wilfong and Hardin were also at the Nov. 28 executive session. The three are still on the board, along with Paul Bailey, Edward Forrest, Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner. Byers decided to step down after 30 years on the board.

Hardin, without naming the board members, said some couldn't remember what was said at the executive session.

"We're researching that now," he said. "Some board members can't recall what they heard."

Nipps and Wilfong could not be reached for comment.

Bartlett, who said he attends most executive sessions, disputed Byers' claim regarding the salary.

He said the salary, which was on a pay scale for administrators and supervisors, was approved by the School Board when the job description was put together and was based on job requirements and education level.

"The School Board has approved that salary," Bartlett said. "Before we can offer a position, the board is required to approve it. We're not working in a vacuum."

He declined to comment further.

"I don't want to talk about that without knowing what is fact," Bartlett said.

Byers said she doesn't know when the salary increase was decided or by whom.

"This is a contrived situation which is embarrassing to the Board of Education members. It's unnecessary," Byers said.

"And it's very awkward for the three new people. I think it was planned to be awkward," she said.

Byers said the position shouldn't be on the pay scale of administrators and supervisors, and that Donna Messina, the former community relations specialist, performed all the duties listed under the upgraded job description.

The job requirements include writing speeches for Bartlett, setting annual public relations objectives and speaking at public meetings about the school system.

"The job description that they presented to us was the same that Donna had done," Byers said. "She has written speeches for the superintendent. Donna did all that and did it well."

Bartlett said the salary increase is justified because the public information officer will perform more duties than the community relations specialist. When asked what duties Messina didn't perform that the public information officer would, Bartlett said, "I don't have that in front of me."

Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Councils of PTAs, also questioned the manner in which the position was discussed.

"I am unable to find any Board of Education discussion of this in Board of Education minutes," she said in a recent address to the School Board. "Any change in this position should have been discussed in an open board meeting and brought to a vote."

The Maryland Open Meetings Act states a meeting can be closed for personnel matters for discussion of specific individuals, not to discuss positions.

Byers said she read through the minutes of the executive session, and found no mention of the public information officer position.

The minutes of executive sessions can be made public only by a vote of the board.

Bartlett maintains correct procedures were followed in upgrading the position. He said the board was allowed to meet in executive session to discuss the position because it was a personnel matter.

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