Chesterton Tribune



Duneland School Board to decide on Superintendent raise tonight

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The Duneland School Board is slated to vote tonight on a new Superintendent’s contract that would raise Duneland Superintendent Dr. Chip Pettit’s base salary from $147,500 to $170,000, among other changes.

The vote will take place at the Board’s special meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at the Administration Center, 601 W. Morgan Avenue, Chesterton. Those attending are asked to practice social distancing and to wear masks if proper social distance cannot be maintained.

Public participation, though usually included as an agenda item on the School Board’s agenda, is not listed on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, though Board President Brandon Kroft said he doesn’t “have any intention of shutting anyone down” if any members of the public show up wishing to comment. Kroft added that he’s happy to answer questions privately as well.

Kroft said the change to Pettit’s base salary brings Duneland Schools in line with how much comparable districts in the area, such as Valparaiso, Crown Point, and Lake Central schools, pay their superintendents.

Pettit’s current contract, which was slated to run through 2022, stipulated that he would be paid an annual base salary of $147,500 and eligible for a performance stipend of either $4,500 or $6,500 based on whether or not the School Board rated his performance “effective” or “highly effective.” He was also guaranteed a $6,000 annually vehicle allowance, a $100 a month technology stipend for a cell phone, and all of his “reasonable” business and professional development expenses paid.

The proposed new contract, which would carry through 2023 and be subject to annual renewal, stipulates that Pettit would be paid an annual base salary of $170,000 and eligible for a performance stipend of $6,000 based on improving the School district’s overall rating based on state accountability standards. The proposed contract eliminates the vehicle allowance, stating instead that Pettit will be provided a Duneland Schools-owned vehicle for business-related travel, and limits the business and professional development benefit to $2,000, in addition to conference expenses.

Kroft said it is the Board’s position that the changes to Pettit’s contract represent a good use of Duneland’s funds even during a time of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. “We’re pretty sure we’ve locked Dr. Pettit in long-term,” Kroft said. “We had to bring his contract in line with the other districts in the area in order to make that happen.”

Kroft said the school district owning the vehicle Pettit uses will “no doubt” be more cost effective than paying a vehicle allowance. When asked if it might be easier for Pettit to earn a performance stipend based on state accountability standards, Kroft said, “The reality is it’s probably not.”

Kroft also said the Board is trying to move toward deciding performance stipends for all administrators based on district-wide performance instead of individual performance as an incentive for administrators to work together in the best interest of students. “At the end of the day, what we should care about is how well our kids are doing,” Kroft said.

According to Kroft, Pettit’s salary raise is somewhat offset by the fact that Duneland Schools was paying consultants to help Pettit navigate the transition from being a principal at a large high school to leading a large school district. Duneland Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz told the Tribune this morning that Duneland Schools has paid $12,900 to date for those services.

The Tribune asked if its standard for a school district to hire consultants for mentorship or guidance of a new superintendent. “When you’re bringing somebody in who had not led a district of our size, I think it’s prudent,” Kroft said.

To people who would say it’s more prudent to hire someone who already had experience leading a district of Duneland’s size, Kroft said there was no doubt during the search process last year that Pettit was the right choice for an exceptional, long-term leader for Duneland. “Giving him this year of guidance in the transition is going to benefit our kids long-term,” Kroft said. “When you see someone who has the capabilities to really raise our district and raise student performance for our kids to reach their maximum potential, I think it’s a small price to pay.”

A formal opportunity for public comment was provided at a June 15 special meeting, which Duneland Schools advertised in a legal notice 10 days in advance, as required by state law, Kroft said. The legal notice was published June 5 online and in the printed Chesterton Tribune.

This reporter asked Kroft, if the Duneland School Board has been communicating so well about the pandemic, and if its prides itself on the “Duneland difference”, why did the Board not go above and beyond state requirements to make sure its stakeholders and the members of the general public were aware of significant proposed changes to Pettit’s contract?

Kroft responded that the information was out there--the proposed new contract was posted on the Duneland Schools website, and he thought the June 5 legal notice “was posted prominently” on the Tribune website.


Posted 6/30/2020






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