Florida Keys News
Friday, October 11, 2013
Complaint prompts contract kerfuffle

Superintendent Mark Porter's public comments about the salary and responsibilities of recently promoted district employee have come under fire with one critic questioning whether Porter lied to the school board during a meeting.

The firestorm was touched off earlier this week when it was revealed that district watchdog Larry Murray had filed a complaint with the state Board of Education over the issue.

Murray's complaint states that during the Aug. 13 board meeting, under questioning from District 4 member John Dick, Porter told the board that Christina McPherson would be receiving the same salary as before, even as her position as director of Assessment and Accountability was expanded to include the additional role of interim principal of Poinciana Elementary School.

On the recorded transcript of the meeting, the exchange can be heard just after the 1:28 mark.

Porter asks the board for after-the-fact approval of the contracts for principals and administrative personnel for the 2013-14 school year.

Before the vote, Dick can be heard asking, "Will everybody be on the salary schedule of the slot they're in? Or are they taking their previous salaries with them to the slot they're going to?"

Porter replies, "We have placed them into appropriate salary schedules for ... the positions they will be taking, with the exception of the position of the interim appointment of Ms. McPherson, where she is retaining the dual role within our department and will continue at the salary schedule for that position."

Yet McPherson was awarded additional compensation.

The contract she signed after the Aug. 13 meeting bumps her salary up about $9,200, to about $103,000, and also includes an ongoing insurance adjustment subsidy of about $1,857, which 18 employees of the district receive as compensation for the district's changing health care plan.

The discrepancy was noted by Murray, who last month filed suit against the district, claiming that he had been stonewalled in his requests for documents related to McPherson's salary. That suit was thrown out Sept. 27 by Circuit Court Judge David Audlin on technical grounds, after Murray said the district had finally complied with his request.

The state Department of Education earlier this week kicked Murray's complaint back to the district, specifically to board Chairman Andy Griffiths, to deal with.

"Everybody seems to be taking something different away from what the superintendent said," Griffiths said on Thursday. "His words during the Aug. 15 meeting seem to have caused some confusion. Perhaps upon his return, we can get Mr. Porter to clarify his answer from the meeting, so that it leaves less room for misinterpretation."

Porter is currently on leave, traveling to his son's wedding in Minnesota. Reached for comment, however, the superintendent's words mirrored Griffiths'.

"Certainly, additional compensation was granted to Ms. McPherson in fulfillment for her dual role," Porter said. "My interpretation of Mr. Dick's question at the meeting was, were we going to start moving people to a higher or lower pay grade. My response was that, no, we would not be making any changes to the pay grade, or the levels of authority in this process.

"I was not responding to questions about the specific salary amount," Porter said. "However, if my response requires a clarification by any members of the board, I'll be happy to provide that upon my return."

For his part, Dick said he's not convinced the superintendent intended to mislead anyone.

"I already knew that Ms. McPherson was going to be getting more money, so my question didn't actually relate to her contract," Dick said. "I was actually concerned with an employee other than Ms. McPherson, whom I'd rather not name."

Dick said, "I can't tell you how the rest of the board feels. The discussion became a little clearer in my memory after watching the transcript, but if I'm another board member listening to it, it might not sound good. It should have been put out clearer."

For District 3 member Ed Davidson, the issue is crystal clear. "There is no question that according to existing policies, the school board sets the amount of compensation for administrators.

Davidson said. "If, at the Aug. 13 board meeting Superintendent Porter had not stated that Christina McPherson's compensation was going to remain as it currently was, I was about to ask that question myself. Remember, at that point the furlough day pay cut for teachers was still in the budget figures, and the board had not yet committed to buying back the furlough days. Imagine what a firestorm the superintendent would have created at the next bargaining session, if it had been announced that an administrator was getting a $10,000 to $13,000 raise. That's why this is an important issue to resolve."

The full transcript can be found at http://mcsd-tv.keysschools.com/live78.htm.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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