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Kaneland board OKs waiver for administrator raises

SUGAR GROVE – Kaneland School Board members voted Monday night to approve a necessary waiver for administrator raises OK’d in the spring of 2013, but it was not without a pause – actually, two pauses.

The board approved the waiver, 6-1. Board member Tony Valente voted against it. Valente also voted no on a raise for Superintendent Jeff Schuler in February 2013 – a move that boosted Schuler’s base salary to $175,000, up from $158,525.

Valente said he was “embarrassed” about the situation.

“It’s irresponsible,” he said. “We’ve got to do better with our spending.”

The other board members voted for the move, but two of them – Peter Lopatin and Pedro Rivas – each paused for a significant length of time before voting yes.

“I have the same hesitation,” said Rivas, whose vote followed Lopatin’s. Rivas and Lopatin were not on the school board at the time of the original vote.

The discussion was part of a public hearing, but no members of the public chose to speak on the topic.

According to district documents, the district’s auditor noted that administrative expenditures for fiscal 2013 were $650,192. Documents put that figure at $696,129 for fiscal 2014. The limit is a 5 percent increase, which the document said would have been $682,701. That put the district $13,428 over the limit, the documents stated. According to the document, “much of the remainder was the result of the salary adjustment given to the superintendent by the board that was discussed publicly at the time.”

Because of that, officials said, the waiver was needed.

Board President Cheryl Krauspe said the raise for Schuler came after a year of a salary reduction and two years of a freeze. But Valente, referencing the Kaneland staff’s salary freeze that has been in effect since the 2010-11 school year, was critical of the move. District officials are in negotiations with the teacher’s union on a new contract.

“What are we going to do when teachers come and say we want that kind of increase, too?” Valente asked.

Lopatin asked whether the district previously had requested such a waiver. Julie-Ann Fuchs, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said the district hadn’t needed to, except that there was a time in which end-of-career salary increases caused the district to go over the limit.

Rivas asked whether there was any way officials could have seen it coming. Fuchs said it “wasn’t anything we saw coming,” but Valente said it should have been anticipated. He said he has a problem with the district always spending “to the limit.”

“I saw it coming,” Valente said.

Rivas asked what would happen if the board didn’t approve the waiver. Fuchs said the district could be penalized by the state school board. Board member Veronica Bruhl said there didn’t appear to be a good alternative.

“It sounds like the only thing we can do is have the waiver submission,” she said.

There was some friction among board members. When board member Teresa Witt made the motion to approve the waiver, Valente said that it should be marked in the minutes that Witt made the motion. After the motion was approved, Witt addressed Valente’s remark.

“Can I ask that board members not make disrespectful comments about other members?” Witt asked, saying that such comments often devolve into lengthy, off-topic conversations.

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