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December 11. 2013 11:20PM

Manchester school superintendent's contract renewed in secret session

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee has renewed the contracts for Superintendent Debra Livingston and her three deputies, while delaying any discussion of pay raises until the spring.

The board discussed the contracts in a closed-door session at Monday’s meeting. Unlike in past years, the contracts were not listed on the agenda of the meeting.

The school board is required to complete its evaluation of the superintendent by early December and to inform the top administrators by Jan. 1 whether their contracts will be renewed.

In the non-public discussion Monday, the board evaluated Livingston’s performance since she took the top job in July. Following the discussion, the board reconvened to vote unanimously to renew Livingston’s contract, “with discussion on COLA (a cost-of-living raise) and retirement to take place in April,” according to minutes from the meeting.

The contracts for Assistant Superintendents Karen Burkush and Dave Ryan, and Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis were approved with the same stipulation.

The contracts run through June 2015.

DeFrancis’ contract was also approved unanimously. There were two votes against the assistant superintendent contracts, from Art Beaudry, Ward 9, and Debra Gagnon Langton, Ward 2.

Livingston’s salary is $160,000; DeFrancis gets $105,677; Burkush gets $111,437. Ryan’s pay is $111,000, which is about $6,000 higher than his predecessor’s salary.

Langton said she voted against the assistant superintendent contracts for similar reasons as she has in the past. In the case of Burkush’s contract, Langton noted she had yet to earn a doctorate, as was anticipated when she was promoted to the position. Langton questioned whether the job could be performed at a lower pay grade. And Ryan, Langton noted, was being paid $6,000 more than the upper range of the salary posted for the job.

Langton said money for teachers should be the priority.

“I’m still fighting for those underdogs. When a teacher is out, you need a substitute. When a superintendent is out, you don’t need a sub,” she said. Ryan, who oversees curriculum and instruction, returned to the district in the fall from Nashua, where he was a high school principal. He has since played an active role in the effort to implement new state education standards.

Ryan’s contract, unlike the other administrators, contains a provision that he establish a residence in Manchester within 180 days. Requiring department heads and top school administrators to reside in the city has been a priority for Mayor Ted Gatsas.
 
The top administrators also receive health and dental coverage, with an 80 percent premium contribution from the district, and reimbursement for certification costs, professional development (up to $1,500) and business travel.

The review of the administrator contracts comes as the showdown continues between the teachers’ union and the district over a new contract. In putting off discussion of raises, the board may have been wary about setting any precedent for the teacher negotiations.

The unanimous vote to renew Livingston’s contract was an early vote of confidence in the new superintendent.

“I think there’s no question she has the board’s support,” said Gatsas, who chairs the school board. Livingston did not respond to a request for comment on the contracts.

Last year, much of the discussion concerning the assistant superintendent contracts took place publicly, and copies of the contracts were posted with the agenda materials.

The previous superintendent, Thomas Brennan, made a point of having his two-year contract evaluation in 2011 take place publicly, telling the Union Leader at the time, “I think it’s important we get it out.”

Langton, the Ward 2 school board member, said there was almost no notice from the administration about the contracts this year, which would have been renewed automatically, with any proposed raises, had the board not acted on them.

“I just sense there’s not as much transparency as there should be,” she said.


tsiefer@unionleader.com


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