$100-Per-Hour Employee Raises Ire at High School

By CHRIS BURRELL

The full-time administrator's job pays $65,000 a year, but when the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School needed a replacement to fill in for the first five months of the school year, the pay rate nearly doubled.

By the time the interim dean of students clocked out at the end of January, he had earned $37,117 working from a contract that had him working half days from September through January. That's nearly $100 an hour or about $400 a day.

What's more, the interim dean, a retired Framingham vice principal named Alfred (Al) Badger, continued to log hours through January even though the permanent dean, Michael Halt, returned to his post Jan. 2.

Now, the deal is coming under fire. No one is questioning Mr. Badger's performance or his credentials, but the high school teachers' union president, Duncan Ross, is asking why the interim dean landed such a hefty salary package at a time when budget pressures are forcing school leaders to cut costs across the board.

"I have no problem with the individual himself, but for the amount of work he put in and the workload he had, that money could have been better spent," Mr. Ross told the Gazette yesterday.

The teachers' union plays no role in negotiating pay for administrators, but Mr. Ross said the news of Mr. Badger's arrangement left many teachers feeling resentful.

"It has an effect on morale. There are people who have been working here many years with a full teaching load," he said. "Then all of a sudden, there's a fellow here working half the day and making this amount of money. That just makes people feel disgruntled and devalued."

Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash, who drafted the job offer, argued yesterday that the pay was justified. Both Mr. Cash and high school principal Peg Regan said that Mr. Badger embodied the student-centered philosophy they wanted in that job.

"We were fortunate to hire someone of this caliber," said Mr. Cash. "To me, he was invaluable … and the rate he was paid was akin to his per diem rate when he retired."

According to the superintendent, Mr. Badger put in more than a four-hour day even though that's all that was demanded by the terms of his contract which stated: "[The] appointment is for half-day for half the school year at a consulting salary up to $37,500."

Mr. Cash said, "A half day is deceptive at the high school. He was there most days until two. He worked beyond the terms of the letter."

But in at least one invoice filed by Mr. Badger, there are no hours recorded, simply a spreadsheet table recording money owed him for a week's worth of work. For the three weeks in December, his invoice requested payments of $1,913.25 per week.

While Mrs. Regan praised the work of Mr. Badger, she also said that she had recommended pro-rating Mr. Badger's pay based on the $65,000 base rate set for the post.

Neither Mrs. Regan nor Mr. Cash offered a clear explanation as to why Mr. Badger stayed on the job during the month of January after Mr. Halt had already returned to work full time.

Mrs. Regan said those were simply the terms of the contract Mr. Cash had written, hiring the interim dean through Jan. 30. Mr. Cash, in turn, said he assumed that Mrs. Regan wanted to keep Mr. Badger on the payroll to help with the transition.

While the issue of Mr. Badger's pay raises some questions about how hiring and salary decisions are being made and communicated among school leaders, it is also understood that the controversy within the high school is also linked to internal politics.

The dean's position is viewed as a potential stepping stone to the sought-after position of vice-principal, which will open up at the end of next year when Doug Herr retires. Even interim appointments, therefore, are seen as indicators of who will or won't be in line for that job, which currently pays more than $90,000 a year.

Gail Palacios, chairman of the regional high school committee, pointed to other issues underlying the current flap over the dean's position. She said that while the dean's job was created just two and a half years ago to give students a greater voice in school governance, it has rankled some faculty members.

"There are a lot of changes going on at the high school," she said. "Empowering students has been difficult for some staff."

It's not clear how much of a role Mr. Badger played in the effort to empower students. He could not be reached for comment when the Gazette telephoned his home in Oak Bluffs. According to the superintendent, Mr. Badger is currently on vacation.

But Mr. Cash said that Mr. Badger handled attendance issues and acted as the school's equity officer, dealing with civil rights complaints. "He was attending [sports] games, doing early morning parking duties, working with students to keep them at the high school and counseling kids," said Mr. Cash.

The dean's position initially came open back in December 2001 when Mr. Halt, an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, was called into active duty following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

In the spring of 2001, the school split the dean's duties between two teachers, Steve Nixon and Anne Lemenager. At the end of the school year last June, a new search committee was convened to hire a replacement for Mr. Halt in the next academic year.

Again, school leaders decided to split the duties between two people. There were only three applicants for the two posts. The school hired Mr. Nixon to handle the disciplinary aspect of the job, paying him at the $65,000 a year rate plus an additional $50 per class for continuing to teach advanced placement European history.

Now, in hindsight and with the knowledge of state cuts to educational aid, Mrs. Regan said she could have lobbied for spreading the extra tasks among the administrators already in place. "We could have just dealt with the gap in service for budgetary reasons," she said. "We have enough administrators to have covered some of those duties."