LBUSD board member expresses concern over large raise for new superintendent

At last week’s Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting, the board voted to approve a 4-year contract for incoming superintendent Jill Baker.

There was no question Baker would be hired, having been previously announced as the next superintendent, but her contract didn’t come without discussion. It was approved 4-0, but Board Member Juan Benitez took the rare step of abstaining from the vote because of concerns about a $58,000 increase in Baker’s salary compared to her predecessor.

LBUSD legal counsel Brent North explained that because outgoing superintendent Chris Steinhauser had not accepted raises for the last several years, the LBUSD’s head job was below state averages compared to similarly sized districts.

“The superintendent’s salary was in an 18-year time warp and other districts’ compensation outpaced Chris’,” said North. The average large urban school district superintendent’s salary is $420,474, according to North.

Baker’s salary will be $345,000, up from Steinhauser’s $287,000.

Benitez noted that he felt Baker was by far the best candidate for the job. He also said he understood the increase was meant to bring the LBUSD closer to the state average, but he was concerned about the raise as the district is facing massive budget cuts in the wake of turmoil caused by the coronavirus.

“I have complete confidence in her, but I do want to say that I have reservations about the compensation package,” he said. “We have just been informed by our state that we will have a 10% reduction in our budget, and things are likely to be worse in the years after that. … It’s difficult to avoid thinking about potential layoffs and furloughs. That’s my reservation on the compensation package.”

Board Member Megan Kerr pointed out that the LBUSD’s head job will still be below the state average for similarly sized districts, and Board Member Felton Williams added that the contract included automatic salary reductions for Baker if the district has to cut staff or furlough workers.

The contract passed 4-0, with Benitez saying he abstained due to the reasons he listed as causing his reservations.

Baker will take over the district’s top job on August 1. She had previously been announced as the district’s next superintendent, but the contract wasn’t formally approved until the May 20 meeting.

Parents continue to ask for grade option

A group of LBUSD parents at the May 20 meeting continued to petition the board to add an opt-in grading policy to its credit/no credit system for the spring 2020 semester. The school district moved to the credit/no credit model for only the spring semester in an effort to help students and teachers adjust to online learning that was thrust on them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fourteen community members wrote letters on the subject. They were read by Board of Education Executive Secretary Leticia Rodriguez; 13 in favor of adding an opt-in grade policy and 1 against. Because the item was on the agenda the board got a chance to respond to the requests before voting 5-0 to uphold the current credit/no credit system with no opt-in for receiving letter grades.

“About 33 people have reached out to me,” said Kerr. “This is bigger than the 33 people who reached out to me; this is about the entire community. … What I’m hearing from my teachers and students at my schools is that this is one thing that’s helped make the world being upside down easier for them.”

New administrative assignments

As is typical for the late-year school board meeting, the board approved several administrative assignments, but due to the complications of the COVID-19 shutdown, there were fewer than usual.

Last year there were more than 80 new assignments, while there were a little more than 20 this year. Getting new principals for fall 2020 are Avalon, Burcham, Birney, Fremont, Lindbergh, Hughes, Hudson, Keller, Jordan, Sato, CAMS and Cabrillo.

See a full list here.

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