Chesterton Tribune



Duneland School Board approves Superintendent raise

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The Duneland School Board approved a $22,500 raise to Duneland Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Pettit’s base salary at a special meeting Tuesday night.

The new contract provides for raising Pettit’s base salary from $147,500 to $170,000 annually, eliminates his annual vehicle allowance of $6,000 in favor of providing a Duneland Schools-owned vehicle for his work-related travel, and provides that he will be eligible for a $6,000 performance stipend based on district-wide state accountability ratings rather than a Board-driven performance evaluation.

Per the new agreement, Pettit will also have business and professional expenses paid up to $2,000, in addition to conference expenses. The contract carries through 2023 and effectively auto-renews annually in perpetuity as long as Pettit is rated as effective by the Board, according to Board President Brandon Kroft.

The Board approved the new contract unanimously after one member of the public, and the only member of the public who attended, local resident Joel Sutlin, weighed in.

Sutlin said he’s owned a business in Duneland since 1995 and moved here because of the quality of the Duneland Schools. When he first moved to Duneland, Sutlin said, he was impressed by then-Superintendent Dirk Baer, who he said refused his last proposed raise during his tenure.

Sutlin went on to say that since, he has seen several superintendents who were hired at increasingly high salaries not commit to Duneland the same way Baer did. “I don’t attest to the theory that you can buy excellence,” Sutlin said. “That’s a personal opinion. Track records, I think, have proved me out.”

Sutlin asked if Pettit requested the raise. Kroft said there was not a direct request. “There was discussion about doing an increase,” Kroft said, adding that he can’t give details about personnel matters, “but I will tell you there was no flat-out demand.”

Board Vice-president Ron Stone said, though he acknowledged now may be bad timing to give a raise, disagreed with Sutlin. “For me, I own my own business, and you say you can’t buy talent, but I buy it,” Stone said. Stone added that while Baer refused raises over the years, other superintendents took them, which set Duneland up to be on the low-end of the local market once the Board was tasked with replacing Baer.

Sutlin, for his part, said he’s been following Pettit’s progress at Duneland and thinks Pettit is doing a great job, though Duneland standardized test scores are “deplorable” in his opinion.

Board member John Marshall, who yesterday was celebrating exactly 15 years on the Board, offered his reasoning for supporting the proposed contract: “In the 15 years that I’ve been here, and I’ve had a lot of them, there has never been an upside to our superintendent like what we’ve had with Chip Pettit,” Marshall said. “I made the decision that I think was best for the school corporation. We made the right decision, and that’s the job of the school board-- that is one of our sole focuses-- hiring and retaining the superintendent.”

Board Secretary Alayna Lightfoot Pol added, “Whether we like it or not, schooling has become highly competitive. I’m here because we want change, and he’s the change we need. We’ve seen great things in the past year.”

Stone added that Valparaiso Community Schools and the Crown Point Community School Corporation (where Pettit made his career before he was hired at Duneland last year) are both in the market right now for new superintendents.

Stone said Pettit will help improve the test scores Sutlin mentioned, and Pettit will be great for Duneland in part because he’s from the region and is committed to the Duneland community. “He’s our guy,” Stone said. “He’s staying here.”

Sutlin said Pettit is “making plenty of money” and excused himself from the meeting after Board members scoffed at his final comment: “I just hope you guys aren’t selling yourselves short.”


Posted 7/1/2020




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