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Raising eyebrows 

A couple of unusual pay hikes create hard feelings among some D-11 employees, indicate a 'mind shift'

Colorado Springs School District 11's Hank Hahne has something to smile about: a $15,169 raise for his job as D-11's workers' compensation manager.

So does his boss, D-11 Risk Manager Charles Murray, who got a $7,257 increase.

The two men received their pay raises back in August, after D-11 Chief Financial Officer Glenn Gustafson and Superintendent Nicholas Gledich offered a sweetheart deal to prevent the high-performing Hahne from taking a better-paying job with the Adams County Board of Cooperative Services. They then gave Murray — who had been demoted recently from a higher position due to issues with his performance — a raise to ensure he would make more than his employee. Hahne now earns $76,956 a year, while Murray makes $84,213.

The hikes in pay caused anger and jealousy among some D-11 employees. Teachers and educational support professionals are not getting raises beyond basic contractual obligations this year. Hahne, Murray and the rest of the "executive-professional" group — office workers, school principals, computer programmers — were told there would be no pay raises this year due to budget problems.

But not all see this as simply an issue of inequity. Informed of the situation, board member Sandra Mann calls the move part of wider change in D-11, away from a union model and toward a business model, where people must justify their salaries.

"In a business model," Mann says, "positions are not all the same, and it's a mind shift for public education."

The new way of thinking is being encouraged by Gledich, she says, and its most obvious manifestation has been the recent talk of performance pay for teachers, whose salaries in the past have been solely the result of union negotiations, educational attainment and years of service. Gledich could not be reached for comment.

But employees like Rick Stull, a D-11 liability adjuster in the Risk Management department, do not see any of this as a mind shift. He's peeved that the normal, rather exhaustive process for granting increases in the district wasn't followed in this instance.

"[These raises] break so many policies and procedures ... it's ridiculous," Stull says.

D-11's recently retired head of Human Resources, David Schenkel, agrees that the move was unorthodox, but says the superintendent has the right to override policy.

"Do I think it's the right thing to do?" he asks in a phone interview. "Do I think it's good practice? No."

Gustafson, however, contends the move — he calls it a "market adjustment" — does not break policy, and actually makes a lot of sense. This, he says, was an easy choice: A business plan showed that a change in workers comp leadership would likely cost the district over $100,000 in claims payments that might have been avoided by the more experienced Hahne. And market surveys showed Hahne and Murray were underpaid anyway, even after the increases. Besides, he says, unlike the rest of the district, Risk Management is run more like a company.

"Here's a fund that acts like a business, totally segregated from the general fund, where I received a legitimate business case that said, 'Hey, for $20,000 a year, I can save you $100,000 a year,'" Gustafson says. "I think that's a good business decision."

Stull, though, isn't convinced. After all, he says, no one else in the executive professional staff was given a raise, regardless of how much they may be "worth" to the district, or whether a market survey says they're underpaid.

"Let's say it was private sector and you can throw money around like that," Stull says. "You still don't take [Hahne's] boss and give him a $7,200 raise just to keep him above his employee."

stanley@csindy.com

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