Superintendent's raise dredges up past problems

Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Sherine Smith has received her first raise since joining the district nearly four years ago.

The board of trustees unanimously approved the 4% increase at its March 11 meeting, boosting Smith's salary by $9,000 a year. The raise, retroactive to July 1, increases her pay from $225,000 to $234,000.

The spike aligns with the percentage salary increases approved for 162 certificated teachers and counselors represented by the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Assn., 25 classified management employees, certificated administrators and school psychologists who are not part of either the faculty association or the California School Employees Assn.

Two residents spoke against giving Smith a raise.

Parent Sheri Morgan referenced a proposed calendar change, voted on in January 2013, that would have moved the first day of school to before Labor Day, and the resignations of high-ranking administrators.

"This is not personal ... we've had to replace key hires, so can we afford this [Smith's raise]?" Morgan said.

The board initially approved the school calendar change but reversed the decision in March 2013 after several parents complained that district officials did not clearly communicate the idea to them.

Smith said in a previous interview that the calendar change was well-intentioned, but agreed that communication with the public could have been better.

Laguna resident Howard Hills said the resignations of the district's human resources director and assistant superintendent of instructional services within a month of each other shouldn't be forgotten.

"There's a price tag put on problematic personnel management that took place," Hills argued.

Smith said the district has been fiscally prudent during her tenure

In the last two years, the district saved more than $250,000 in director and assistant superintendent salaries, including $134,021 from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 school years.

The human resources director, Gerald Vlasic, was the only employee whose pay was higher than that of his predecessor — by $47,650 — but his role involved more duties, Smith said.

"This board [voted to] reduce salaries of new managers when other managers retired," Smith said during the meeting.

Hills acknowledged the salary savings, but said there are additional costs, including time spent recruiting candidates.

The district paid $1,090 to advertise for human resources director and assistant superintendent of instructional services positions ($540 for each posting) in EdCal, a statewide newsletter, district human resources and communication director Leisa Winston wrote in an email.

Winston added that since interviews were held last summer, the district didn't have to pay for substitute instructors for teachers who were on the interview panel.

The district pays an annual subscription fee to post job openings on EdJoin, an online education website. The flat fee for this year was $363, Winston said.

"The fact [that the calendar change and administrator salaries] were corrected doesn't mean they didn't happen," Hills said. "Sherine has done good things, but it doesn't mean unacceptable actions weren't taken as well."

Smith citied notable achievements in the last year, including California Distinguished School honors for Thurston Middle and Laguna Beach High schools and partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach to share facilities.

Trustee Theresa O'Hare said Smith should be recognized these and other successes.

"[Smith's pay] increase is well justified by the overall performance of our schools and her professional leadership," O'Hare wrote in an email. "The resignation last year of two employees is not all that remarkable in the ebb and flow of a large organization such as ours."

Smith tried to put the last year into perspective.

"As superintendent, you're responsible for everything that goes wrong, but also responsible for things that go well," she said. "A vast majority of things have gone well."

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