Board sets pay for school chief

NASHUA – The next superintendent won’t start out making any more than the current one and could make less.

At Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting, members voted 4-3 to set a starting salary range of $135,000 to $150,000 for Superintendent Christopher Hottel’s successor.

Hottel is earning $150,000 this year, which is the second highest superintendent salary in the state, behind only Manchester. Hottel is leaving July 1 to take over as superintendent of the school district in North Andover, Mass., where he will earn $165,000.

Some members argued the current superintendent pay is too high and said this was an opportunity for the board to rein in a salary that has ballooned over the past few years.

Charlie Katsohis, who was named as the head of the search at the board’s last meeting, said the board should make an effort to bring the salary more in line with the rest of the salaries in the district.

The next highest paid employee in the school district is Associate Superintendent Ed Hendry, who earns $109,000.

Katsohis said the disparity is too significant and started to become an issue for him when the board gave former Superintendent Julia Earl, who had no previous experience as the head of a school district, $125,000 as a starting salary.

“When you look at what other administrators get and look at what other head people get, how and why superintendent Earl got what she got back then led to what we’re in now,” he said.

Superintendent pay

At the time, the school board wanted a salary range of $150,000 to $175,000, but aldermen had control over the range. Joseph Giuliano, superintendent before Earl, earned $115,830 his final year.

Board members Robert Hallowell, Steve Haas, Rick Dowd and President Tom Vaughan voted in favor of the range.

Katsohis, Dennis Hogan and William Mosher voted against it.

After taking the city to court, the school board prevailed and won the right to set the salary range and the eventual salary without aldermanic approval.

After Earl was bought out of her contract in 2007, the board hired Hottel at his $150,000 salary, making him, at the time, the highest paid superintendent in the state.

Katsohis, a longtime principal in the district, said he would have supported a range of $130,000 to $140,000. To have a $40,000 difference between the first- and second-highest-paid employees in the district is a “morale issue,” Katsohis said.

Although he ended up voting for the range, Hallowell, earlier in the meeting, had recommended setting the salary at $140,000, regardless of who is chosen.

Hallowell said he didn’t think the $10,000 reduction would change who looks at coming to Nashua, but said it would send a message about having to sacrifice under the current economic climate.

“I do think the person coming to this district has to understand the financial constraints we’re going to be under,” he said.

Other members of the board said they had a fundamental problem with setting the salary lower than what it currently is. Vaughan said potential applicants may be turned away from a district is that moving the salary lower.

“I’m a little concerned the message that this is going to send to applicants,” he said.

Haas said he had a problem with setting the salary at a certain figure before the board selected a candidate. It would leave the board with little room when it comes to negotiation, he said.

Haas also said the figure being proposed was too low, especially when qualified superintendent candidates are scarce.

“I don’t think $140,000 is sufficient to entice a quality superintendent to our district,” he said.

Dowd also made a motion to set the salary at $145,000, but Hallowell’s and Dowd’s motions to set a specific salary failed and the board ended up coming to consensus on the salary range.

This was the first meeting to discuss the search since a meeting two weeks ago when tensions arose over the search stalling.

At that meeting, Hallowell left abruptly after he said he was frustrated that Vaughan implied the board was dragging its feet in making decisions on the search process.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, Hallowell and Vaughan apologized for their actions.

Also at the meeting, the board voted to create an ad hoc search committee to move the search along. The committee is made up of Katsohis, Haas, Vaughan and Hallowell.

At the committee’s first meeting, scheduled for 7:15 p.m. tonight at Nashua High School North, members are expected to come up with recommendations for a final process to propose to the full board next week.

Katsohis came to Wednesday night’s meeting with the process outline, which would have a superintendent in place by Memorial Day. It would include finalists taking part in public forums and televised interviews with the school board.

There would also be an interview committee made up of community members and district staff, who would narrow down a group of eight to 10 candidates to the finalist stage. It’s not yet clear who will decide who gets to be on the committee. The board would whittle down applicants based on applications and would then pick from the top three selected by the interview committee.

The board voted Wednesday night not to have any board members on the interview committee. Vaughan said it would make the final selection process more pure, since all members would have had equal access to the candidates.

The board has already spent about $3,500 to advertise for the position in various education publications, Web sites and newspapers.