The worrisome issue with SAU salaries

In something of a sea change, the administration is now providing generous amounts of information to me and fellow Timberlane budget committee rep., Cathy Gorman.  After feeling embattled and stymied for months, it is a welcomed change. But there is still the nagging issue of the SAU salaries for 2014-2015 which have not been disclosed.

In emails with Dr. Metzler and his consummately professional assistant, Cathy Belcher, the SAU argues that because the SAU  is awarding merit-based increases to its employees in the 2014-2015 year, it cannot report individual salaries in advance.  Not even the base salary?  Here is what Ms. Belcher explained to me in an email on Jan. 24, 2014:

What is different now is the process for budgeting whereby a line by line listing of SAU staff salaries is no longer generated because the SAU Board has done away with across the board raises and has authorized the Superintendent to award merit raises instead.  This means the Superintendent will pay SAU staff from a single pool of money (not individual line items) beginning 2014-15.

This means two things:

  • All SAU budgets going forward will not have salaries broken out by positions
  • The public will not know individual raises

Why does this matter?  Let me explain.  It is likely that voters will prefer the SAU default budget for 2014-2015, which means SAU employees will not get raises from the new 2.5% merit pool that was built into the proposed budget.  Think one year ahead to 2015-2016.  Another default budget is elected by voters. The SAU default budget is almost certainly once again going to have inherited a bloated insurance line because it stuffed its health insurance line in the 2014-2015 default budget.  Because there will be a tempting chunk of unneeded money sitting on the insurance line, there will be money to move around into raises. What voters approve, after all, is a bottom line budget, and the governing body is free to move the money around from line to line.

A number of people have told me they don’t believe a public body can give raises when they are running on a default budget unless the raises were contractually stipulated.  I questioned this and here’s the answer I got on Jan. 23, 2014 from Paul Sanderson, a lawyer from the Local Government Center:

The salary line in the default budget has a value.  However, the governing body still retains the right of transfer within the budget, and because salaries are a public purpose, they could transfer in or out of this line as needed. ….Thus, even with a default budget in place, a governing body could elect to make compensation changes using the power of transfer within the lines in the budget. 

It remains to be seen if any of this will happen but it is a logical possibility, made all that much easier by not giving us individual salary information, information which is most decidedly covered by The Right to Know Law. Merit-based pay is good and Dr. Metzler should be commended for this  advancement. Using it as an excuse to hide salary information however is an outrage.

Addendum:  Dr, Metzler has assured me that the budgeted 2013-2014 salaries are a good reflection of the base salaries for 2014-2015.  I questioned this because of salary adjustments that could have been made since the 2013-2014 budget was approved. His assurance otherwise means the 2013-2014 salary information we do have will serve as a baseline for SAU salaries for the 2014-2015 budget year.  But where does this leave us in subsequent years?  As years get farther away from the 2013-2014 base there really won’t be an accurate way of knowing SAU salaries unless the SAU institutes a practice of disclosing them at year end.

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