Because the Clark County School District faces a severe decline in state funding, new Superintendent Dwight Jones has rescinded the pay hikes his predecessor approved on his way out for his executive assistant and six administrators.
Jones did not believe the seven employees were unworthy of the raises, which were supposed to take effect Monday. But he thinks the increases cannot be justified at a time when the district expects a state funding shortfall of $300 million for 2011-12, according to information from the governor's office.
Jones said Thursday that he did not make the decision lightly.
"It's a slippery slope for a new superintendent to come in and undo a decision by the former superintendent," Jones said. "I feel bad about it, but I have to look out for the district as a whole."
He was advised by district lawyers that he could rescind the increases but had to act this week before the hikes "became official in payroll."
The salary increases were approved by former Superintendent Walt Rulffes and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler on Dec. 9, according to a district human resources memo obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Jones assumed leadership on Dec. 15 and did not learn of the pay raises for the six administrators "until before the holiday break."
The raises would have cost the district $40,000 per year, Jones said. Some of the administrators were recommended for reclassification three years ago, but their pay adjustments hadn't gotten final approval because of budget problems. Because of the ailing economy, the district has been rocked by $385.5 million in funding shortfalls over three years.
The administrators slated to get pay raises of about 5 percent were:
■ Judy Myers, a coordinator for the School-Community Partnership Program.
■ Cynthia McCray, a director for the low-incidence disability team.
■ Jeffrey Hafen, a director for support staff training and development.
■ Hilary Engel, a director for administrative personnel and contracting services.
■ Audrey Noriega, an administrator for payroll and benefits.
■ David Massy, a director for risk management.
They currently are paid salaries ranging between $62,000 and $102,000.
Rulffes also approved a pay hike for his administrative secretary, Elizabeth Carrero. On paper, Carrero appeared to be up for a $22,000 increase in base salary, but her recommended pay of roughly $96,000 was supposed to be comparable to what she now earns with overtime. Now a support staff employee, she was to be reclassified as an administrator, a move intended to eliminate her eligibility for overtime, district officials said.
Jones said he did not think the district's procedures for reclassifying Carrero's position were followed because the new administrative job should have been advertised to give other people an opportunity to apply.
The seven employees were informed of Jones' decision to rescind the pay hikes on Thursday. Jones personally told Carrero. He praised her as an "amazing'" and "fabulous" assistant.
Jones said the affected employees were understanding. Of the seven, only Noriega commented to the Review-Journal, saying she has "confidence in the new superintendent as I did in the former superintendent."
Jones said his decision also was based on his desire to be fair to everyone in the district.
"It will be difficult for me to have central office administrators get a (pay) adjustment when I will be going to employees for concessions," Jones said, referring to future contract negotiations with employee unions.
Jones also did not think it was accurate to call the salary adjustments "raises."
"They are really reclassifications," Jones said. "They're doing more work. I've got hundreds of employees that deserve to be reclassified. They're actually working beyond what their pay level is."
The superintendent said he would like all employees working beyond their pay grade to be "treated right."
"In these economic times, I just can't do it," Jones said. "I'm sure there are households and businesses in the same position. They've got folks doing a lot more with less."
All six administrators had gone through the normal district procedures for job reclassifications, Jones said.
Some of the six administrators had been waiting since 2007 or 2008 for the salary hikes. Because of the district's budget shortfalls in recent years, Rulffes said he initially refrained from signing off on the salary adjustments.
The former superintendent said Thursday in an e-mail that he had been pressured by the administrators' union, the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees, to settle the issue.
Rulffes said the union tried to change contract language to take the superintendent out of the job reclassification process and made a "grievance threat."
As a matter of housekeeping, Rulffes said, he wanted to resolve the dispute before he stepped down.
Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the administrators' union, denied Rulffes' assertion that he wanted to take the superintendent out of the employee reclassification process. While he once had a conversation with district officials about lodging an official grievance, no grievance was filed, Augspurger said.
Augspurger agreed with Rulffes that making the secretary to the superintendent an administrator would have resolved the issue of paying overtime.
This isn't the first time Rulffes has come under fire for awarding a small group of employees salary increases while asking other district employees for "shared sacrifice" in economic hard times. Last year, Rulffes came under fire from the administrators' union for awarding perks to his top staffers. In particular, the union criticized Rulffes as being overly generous in compensating his executive staff for their unused vacation days and sick time upon severance.
Martha Tittle, the district's former chief human resources officer, got a total of $91,443 for 80.5 unused sick days and 85 unused vacation days when she left on Dec. 17.
Clark County School Board members also have come under fire from employee union officials for not knowing what Rulffes did before he retired.
Terri Janison, the former board president who recently resigned to work for Gov. Brian Sandoval as community relations director, said pay increases are a superintendent's decision. While she was not aware of the salary increases in question, Janison said, new job assignments in the district are regularly reported in the School Board agenda packet.
New School Board President Carolyn Edwards also said she was unaware of the salary increases approved in December. When asked whether she should have been informed, Edwards said, "There were irregularities. I will leave it at that."
Edwards also thought Jones acted "appropriately" in rescinding the increases.
State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he could appreciate that Jones was having to make "tough choices" like many people in the current economy.
"But does that mean that I think (school) administrators' salaries are bloated?" Denis asked. "No."
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-374-7917.