The Howard County Board of Education voted last week to raise the salaries of the school system's top five administrators by 8 percent, despite continuing controversy over the board's decision to eliminate summer school to cut costs.
In a nonbinding straw vote also taken last week, board members agreed to reappoint School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to a second four-year term. Although the board is not scheduled to renew Hickey's contract for the 1988-89 school year until January, Chairwoman Anne L. Dodd said, "I didn't see any point in keeping the public in the dark about our intentions."
In all, the raises will cost the school board $27,302. As a result of the board's action, Hickey's salary will increase this week from $78,150 to $84,402. Associate Superintendents Charles Ecker and Noel Farmer will begin making $76,169 and $73,402, respectively, while the salaries for assistant superintendents Maurice Kalin and Joan Palmer will rise to $68,802 and $65,880.
By granting the 8 percent raises, the board followed its practice of giving the administrators, whose salaries are set individually each year, the same percentage increases as teachers, whose wages are negotiated by a labor union.
The Howard County Teachers Association agreed this year to a contract that will raise salaries for teachers and principals by 8 percent annually for the next three years. Together with the incremental pay raises teachers receive based on the number of years they have taught in the county, the average teacher's salary will increase by about 10 percent next year.
Nevertheless, Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray and PTA Council President Sandra French, who have vigorously protested the board's decision to save $134,000 by doing away with summer school this year for all but 100 high school juniors and graduating seniors, said they were surprised by the size of the pay raises.
"I think they all do an excellent job. It's just that in the current budget crunch, it doesn't look good," French said. "Personally, I think a 6 percent raise would have been more appropriate."
Gray said the board should have gone as low as 5 percent, the amount recommended by County Executive Elizabeth Bobo for all school employes except teachers. But he added that it was "insulting" of the board members to go beyond 6 percent, the amount by which the board decided to raise salaries for school secretaries and janitors.
"The priorities of the school board are brought into question here," Gray said. "I consider the support personnel just as important as top administrators."
Dodd, who is still receiving letters from angry parents about the decision in May to drop summer school, said the board members were aware that some people might be upset about the raises but ultimately decided that the pay raises and budget cuts were separate issues.
"We felt that it was very important that we didn't make our top administrators pay a political price unless the way they did their jobs was inadequate," she said. "We have very high expectations of our top staff, and they deliver. And I think for them not to receive recognition of this fact for no other reason than politics would be a shame."
Dodd said the unanimous vote to retain Hickey was taken at the end of his annual evaluation, during which board members indicated that they were pleased by his "willingness to be accessible and his ability to delegate authority."
During his 3 1/2 years as superintendent, Hickey has overseen the expansion of the county's program for the gifted and talented, the reduction of class sizes, evaluations of elementary school math and science programs by citizen committees, and the formation of a task force designed to identify the school system's needs for the next 15 years.
"We are very pleased with the progress that has been made," Dodd said.
Board member Karen Campbell, who previously had criticized Hickey for not displaying enough leadership in his dealings with the board, said she has been pleased by the superintendent's new willingness "to step out front on issues and argue with us on occasion."
Hickey, who has received offers from other school districts, said this week that he would remain in Howard if the board offered him a new contract next year.