Quakertown Community School Board is balking at a $16,000 raise for its public information officer.
In a 5-3 decision, board members tabled a vote on the matter, and agreed to revisit it April 25. Directors Ron Jackson, Jonathan Kern and Mitchell Anderson were opposed. Communications Specialist Gary Weckselblatt was hired in October 2017 at an annual salary of $55,000, but that could increase to the administration-recommended $71,000 if approved.
“I recognize that there not a lot of folks out there like Gary and he does a wonderful job for us, but this is a 40 percent pay increase,” said board member Keith Micucci.
His colleague, Kaylyn Mitchell, stressed that postponing the vote was not a critique of the public information officer’s performance. “We have support staff who are part-time; we’re not making them full-time, or they get a very small raise. This is a hard pill for them to swallow.”
Addressing the slate of new positions in the next school year, Micucci questioned whether they were all necessary. “There’s going to be a board that has to close a gap in a few years so the more we’re mindful now it’s an easier discussion in the future.” Chief Operating Officer Zach Schoch reminded him that the salaries and benefits, which would amount to $900,000, were not new but accounted for in the 2019-2020 budget.
Micucci and other board members called on the administration to provide the board with information detailing the long-term costs of adding positions given its declining enrollment. “I can’t quite tell every time we vote on this what the big picture looks like for us,” said Mitchell, who called for a justification for each position.
Speaking out last year against a plan to furlough eight staff members, Union President Ryan Wieand questioned the need for a full-time public information officer. Wieand suggested eliminating it would save 2.5 positions. The job was previously done on a part-time basis by Ricki Stein, who also taught media production.
Several other districts, including Council Rock and Central Bucks have added full-time public information officers in recent years. Their employees’ starting salaries, at $97,000 and $103,000 respectively, are substantially higher than what Quakertown recommends. Both employees had a combined 22 years’ experience in the public relations field.
Wieand claimed eliminating it and abandoning a proposed administrative position would save 2.5 positions.