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.
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.
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.
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,”
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.”
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?
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.