By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON Sullivan West School Business Administrator Lorraine Poston was promoted Thursday by the school board to a new position Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services starting July 1.
An expansion upon her current fiscal duties, the job essentially makes her second-in-command through at least June 30, 2014 and also comes with a $17,220 raise, putting her annual salary at $115,000.
Though the board and superintendent were unanimous in the decision, the teachers’ union showed up in force at the meeting to decry what they saw as an unfair expenditure.
“At the June 23 meeting last year, I stood in this spot and stated that we looked forward to beginning negotiations with such a generous board of education,” Western Sullivan United Teachers President Michele Brockner told the board prior to its decision. “This was due to the salary increases you were giving to the employees working in the area of central office and management.
“We have been involved in negotiations for over a year,” she continued. “We have not seen any of the generosity that has been given to the central office/management.
“Instead, we have been asked to take pay cuts. We are repeatedly told the district is in such dire straits there is very little money for raises and we need to pay more for the health insurance to help the district out.”
Over the past 10 years, said Brockner, nearly 50 teachers have been cut, while the central office’s staff has grown from 7 to 13 people.
Other union members also spoke, including a woman who is being laid off. They argued that the district is spending top dollar on administrators at the expense of teachers.
Supt. Ken Hilton defended Poston’s promotion and raise, saying that administration has seen cuts. Calling the union’s numbers inaccurate, he said four administrative positions in the business and information technology areas have been reduced to two, cutting the total salaries for those positions from $401,000 to $183,000.
“That’s including the raise given to Lorraine,” Hilton explained, adding after the meeting that it’s part of a downsizing plan he gave the board two years ago. “We’re not asking teachers to cut at that same rate.”
He also argued that costs at the top in SW are lower than other districts stating that in 2010, for positions similar to Poston’s, Tri-Valley paid $125,000, Liberty $130,000, and Monticello $138,000.
Last year, he added, two people were doing the job Poston now has solely assumed, and he worried that she’d leave for a better offer elsewhere if this promotion and raise were not given.
“There’s no position more important than the person who takes care of our finances,” Hilton vigorously insisted, arguing that SW could use the continuity and expertise Poston provides (she’s got a bachelor’s in accounting, master’s in educational administration, and state certification as a school district business leader).
“What we do is too important to have the ‘second string’ handle our finances,” Hilton remarked.
Plus, she’s a hard worker and a good deal for SW, he said, often working 12-hour days throughout the year.
“If you look at her hours or her days, it’s less [cost to the district] than a teacher with 25 years’ experience,” Hilton related. “... I know she’s being wooed. ... We can’t lose her!”
The day after, Poston confirmed to the Democrat that she might have left SW if not for the promotion.
But she added she’s glad to be staying, especially on an administrative team she feels is engaged in a long-range plan.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve the Sullivan West district,” the nine-year employee said. “I’ve learned a lot and worked with some great people.”
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Brockner clarified that the union’s opposition to the raise was not directed at Poston herself.
“Our statement is not a personal attack on Lorraine Poston,” she affirmed. “... We want the district to realize our teachers are just as irreplaceable as Ms. Poston.”
“We do truly, truly respect you and know you are irreplaceable,” replied board member Joan Glase in a thought echoed by most of her colleagues.