SANBORN – Approval of salary hikes for a half-dozen managerial positions, postponed two weeks ago, was granted Wednesday by the Niagara Wheatfield School Board.
The board, with member Lori Pittman absent, voted 5-1 to pass the raises which range from 2 to 3.7 percent for each of the positions.
Richard Sirianni, who objected to the hikes when they were brought up at the last meeting, cast the lone vote in opposition.
Sirianni said the issue was not the amount of money or the performance of the staff involved but rather how the move looks to the community which was just hit with a tax hike in the current budget.
“It’s all about perception to the taxpayers,” he argued. The board has eliminated positions and programs in the last budget but is now saying “let’s give raises out,” he said. Although the raises involve just a few people, Sirianni said “no one up here that can guarantee we won’t cut jobs in May.”
Board President Steve Sabo said he agreed with Sirianni but stressed that the district needed to strengthen its upper management, which is “running on bare bones” with about four top positions not filled. The district wants its managers to improve the schools but is not willing to show appreciation or reward those staff, he said. Also, the district needs to attract the best people available.
“If we lose any more ... where are we going to be?,” he asked.
Sirianni said he did not want to lose any people either but “the people we’re talking about should understand.” He added that the district actually should be under a spending freeze. He suggested that the money could be used to help address the district’s bus shortage.
Sabo later identified the vacant positions as the human resources director, which was eliminated a few years ago; the district treasurer, who resigned this year; a curriculum director, which was cut this year; and the business officer, who is replaced part-time by Richard Hitzges from the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Sabo said School Superintendent Lynn Fusco is handling most of the duties of those jobs.
The only other member to address the issue was Amy Deull, who noted that the issue was very difficult to consider but said the total amount of the raises would be covered by the salary of one of the positions not filled this year.
Scheduled to receive 3.7 percent hikes were the district accountant and two head bus drivers. Those slated for 2 percent raises were the director of facilities and school lunch director. The district treasurer was also on the list but that person resigned and any raise would be prorated to July 19. None of the positions are covered by a bargaining unit.
In another matter, the board was told more buses may be needed to transport students to school and activities this year.
Hitzges said the original estimate was that the district needed to replace six buses but that number may be smaller.
Niagara-Wheatfield could purchase or rent buses from another district, lease new buses, or delay the elementary school run by an hour, he said.
Member Christopher Peters said the board needed to look into the purchase of six new buses for next year and prepare the numbers for the budget.