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Staff wants admin cutback

A group of Summerville High teachers asked Wednesday that the school combine its superintendent and principal positions, citing potential cost savings.

Longtime Summerville High business teacher Kathy Horak, backed by about 12 colleagues, implored the school board to hire a combined superintendent-principal instead of a superintendent. 

The district is searching for a full-time superintendent to replace John Keiter, who is retiring at the end of June.

“If the district were to pay a superintendent-principal half of what it currently pays two administrators, or about $150,000, money could be better spent on paying for two or three extra full-time teachers,” said the teachers’ statement read by Horak.

“As teachers, we believe that professional services providing direct benefits to students, day in and day out in the classroom, needs to be our primary goal, and most important mission,” the statement later said. 

The teachers said they felt the community agreed about the need to save money on what they see as “top-heavy” administration.

District faculty met to discuss the superintendent search Feb. 4 and took a vote. All 32 teachers who voted were in favor of hiring a combined superintendent-principal.

Support staff have also expressed approval of the arrangement. 

Summerville Union High School District employs five administrators, not including Chief Business Official Tonya Midget or the director of maintenance and transportation.

They are Keiter, Principal David Johnstone, grade level coordinators Mitch Heldstab and John Contreras, and Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy Principal Diana Harford.

At the time of an annual enrollment report last fall, the district’s enrollment stood at roughly 740 students. 

Keiter will make about $207,000 as a base salary this year, with no additional health benefits or business expense compensation. Johnstone, hired last year, will make almost $113,000 as a base salary. He also receives a $2,400 business stipend and $8,200 in health benefits.

The teachers’ Wednesday statement is part of a broader conversation about the cost of school administration in Tuolumne County, spurred by shaky finances and bond measures on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Calaveras County spends about half as much on superintendent salaries as Tuolumne County, for roughly the same number of students.

The presence of superintendent-principals is another key difference between the counties’ school structures. Three of four Calaveras County superintendents, not including the county superintendent of schools, are also principals for at least one school in their district.

Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent and Principal Mike Chimente is perhaps the closest parallel for the administrator the Summerville High teachers have requested.

In his second year serving dual roles, he has estimated that the deal saves Bret Harte more than $140,000 a year. His base salary is about $154,000.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Keiter said the district is only advertising for a full-time superintendent position. But it’s “not going to rule out any options,” he said. 

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