Payouts to school brass could be capped in Douglas County

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School officials say they'll likely do away with contracts that allowed five-figure payouts for unused time off to some top administrators this year.

The Douglas County School Board will approve new contracts by year's end, and the proposal it will consider would cap the amount those employees can be paid for unused time off.

Legal counsel Rob Ross received a $16,730 payout and assistant superintendent of elementary education Christian Cutter got $15,577 for unused time off.

All told, Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen and five of the six senior members of the district's cabinet received nearly $46,000 for time not used in 2011-12, in addition to their salaries.

All six senior cabinet members are paid $151,500 annually. Fagen's salary is just under $270,000.

Senior staff get no specific allowance for sick or vacation days, instead having a bank of 35 days of paid time off to use as they see fit.

Top administrators also received the 1 percent retention bonus and 1 percent raise recently awarded to teachers and other district staff.

But in the last five years, the overall budget for leadership-team salaries dropped significantly as the number of full-time positions declined from 66 to 46, school officials said. A DCSD chart shows salaries to those considered part of the district's overall leadership team down from $6.4 million in 2007-08 to $5.1 million this year.

Under the previous administration, the district matched contributions for its top six administrators to the Public Employees' Retirement Association, the public worker's equivalent of Social Security. That practice, which cost the district about $70,000 annually, stopped with the 2010-11 academic year when Fagen and other members of the current administration came on board.

“We believe we are doing more with less,” said chief financial officer Bonnie Betz, who received $7,211 for time off that she didn't take.

Fagen, the highest-paid superintendent in the state, received $2,262 for unused time off.

Brian Cesare, chief human resources officer, was paid $3,260 for his unused time off.

With the exception of Chief Operations Officer Bill Moffitt, who received $652 for unused time off and was hired by the district in 1984, those given extra pay were hired in 2010 and 2011.

Though Betz said the practice of paying top school staff for unused time off is common, representatives of neighboring districts and the Colorado Association of School Boards aren't familiar with it.

“The only time you would get a payout of unused vacation is when somebody retires or leaves,” said Lynn Setzer, spokeswoman for Jefferson County Schools. Departing employees are then eligible for only a portion of that time.

“If you're currently employed, I've never heard of that,” she said.

Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole echoed that statement.

Betz also said top DCSD staff is paid below market, but most salaries for senior staff at Cherry Creek and Jeffco school districts are similar, and in many cases lower. The only notable exception is Cherry Creek’s chief financial officer, paid $168,500 after nearly 20 years in the position.

The Colorado Department of Education shows a fall 2011 average salary for high-level administrators in Colorado’s largest school districts of about $123,500.

For a closer look at current and past administration salaries, visit the district's financial transparency website at dcsdk12.org/BusinessServices/financialtransparency.

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