Disagreement in Danville over hiring retired administrator
DANVILLE — Last August, the Danville school board approved two job descriptions for the district's human resources director — one with an advanced certificate required by the state to hold certain K-12 administrative positions, and one without.
The idea behind having the latter was potentially to recruit someone with hiring, labor relations and negotiating, insurance and other human resources expertise without having to pay a higher administrative salary, saving the district money.
That's what board members did earlier this week, agreeing they hired an "extremely" qualified candidate. However, the appointment wasn't unanimous.
At their meeting, board members voted 4-3 to appoint Dianna Kirk, the district's associate superintendent since July 2009, to succeed Kathy Houpt, who is retiring on June 30. Kirk would work in a noncertified capacity for an annual salary of $60,000 and benefits.
Board members Dan Brown and Steve Bragorgos, who participated in the meeting via speakerphone, both said they like Kirk personally and believe she's clearly qualified for the job, which she held for four years prior to taking her current post. But they said they're concerned about having a process that, they feel, allows high-paid administrators to "double dip."
"It's the whole idea that we encourage people to retire and offer them retirement incentives, and then we turn around and hire them in a different capacity," said Brown, who voted against Kirk's appointment along with Bragorgos and Frank Young.
He pointed out that Kirk, who earned $148,232 this year with her 6 percent retirement boost, will earn a district salary and benefits while drawing a pension through the state's Teachers' Retirement System.
"It just seems fundamentally wrong," Brown said of the process. "I think that's what bothers people about government."
When administrators began updating the human resources director's job description last year, some board members, including Young and Brown, wanted to eliminate the administrative certificate requirement, saying there were likely qualified noncertified candidates who could be brought in at a lower salary.
"We decided to have two job descriptions as a compromise, post it both ways, see who applied and pick the very best candidate," Superintendent Mark Denman said.
A certified director must have a master's degree, valid Type 75 administrative certificate, at least four years of experience in education, while a noncertified director must have a bachelor's degree, at least four years of experience as a human resources manager, labor relations and negotiations experience, and professional human resources credentials. The only difference: A certified director can evaluate employees, and a noncertified one can't.
Denman said the district got 10 certified and three noncertified applicants when the position was posted in February. A selection committee of district staff, parents and other community members interviewed candidates and selected finalists, and he recommended Kirk for the job.
"My job is to recommend the most qualified candidate based on their experience, qualifications and work performance, which I have done," Denman said, pointing out that Kirk has 36 years of experience in education, has worked in the district since 1993 and has served as an administrator since 1995. "For many years, she served as the district's human resources director, and that was key."
"The benefit to the district is she has served in the position before and done an excellent job," added board President Bill Dobbles, who said he appreciates Kirk's willingness to come back and help the district through "a really difficult" transition period when she could be enjoying retirement.
An added benefit: "It's going to be a considerable savings to the district," he continued, adding the district essentially is getting a certified employee at a noncertified salary.
Houpt's annual salary was $95,990 when she took the position in 2009.
Dobbles said Kirk isn't setting a precedent. He pointed to four retired teachers, three of whom are working in the district as teaching assistants and one of whom serves as a secretary.
"There's a benefit in having that experience," Brown agreed. "But it's a little different when you're talking about non-administrative people because of the substantial salaries administrators make. I just think it's a practice that should be discouraged."
While Kirk announced her retirement in 2010, she said she always intended to continue working just as many other retirees her age do.
"I was looking at a lot of different options," she said, adding she applied for her old post only after careful consideration. "I thought this is something I know, and I'm quite passionate about this district. And I saw it as an opportunity to make a positive impact on the work environment and serve the staff."
Kirk said she's honored to get the chance to continue her service. She wants to continue recruiting "the best and the brightest" as well as work on retaining employees and increasing minority hiring, among other things. She also plans to be available for Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, who will take over as associate superintendent in July.
"I'll always be a teacher," Kirk said. "If I can help teach and support her, then that's certainly what I'll do."