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Chester County Press

U-CF approves salary increase for district superintendent

01/24/2017 01:01PM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

During a marathon meeting on Jan. 23, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board voted unanimously to give district superintendent John Sanville a substantial raise and a new five-year contract, sparking some concern from several residents.

Public comment and interviews of four candidates to fill a school board vacancy took up two and a half hours. During comment, former school board member Holly Manzone told the board, “Yesterday, we saw a sudden decision to give the superintendent a 20 percent increase in his pay. This evening, you plan to give him a $255,000 contract. I don't get that at all. What about your fiduciary duty? Why would you do that? I believe a salary of $255,000 a year is completely out of line, given that he makes $214,000 now. There's a huge increase. Other districts, with the exception of I believe it's Downingtown, pay considerably less. Downingtown has three times the number of students that we have here. What's going to happen the next time the teachers have a contract come up? Are they going to get a 20 percent increase? Are they going to get a five-year contact? You really need to think about the consequences of your actions.”

Resident Tom Drake of East Marlborough Township commented that, “Dr. Sanville's salary is $214,000 and he's requesting a raise. In all due respect, where is this justifiable? In the community, we're looking for 1 to 5 percent annual increases. But 20 percent? That's pretty high. At what point is this salary request pure greed?”

Amy Baram of Pocopson Township told the board, “I think John is a fabulous leader. We've had great conversations. I've seen him work hard, work long hours, but I got a lot of emails from people in our district who had no idea that this was on the agenda this evening. None of those people had the opportunity to speak with you about this. Why are we voting on something that wasn't given adequate time for our community to give opinions on? … To give one person a 20 percent raise while our teachers are begging every time a contract period comes up -- I don't understand. I think our community is going to be very upset that they were not aware of this.”

Late in the meeting, the board came to a vote on Sanville's new contract and voted unanimously to approve it.

After the vote, Sanville said, “This is a great place. I'm humbled to serve here. I'm thrilled to do everything I can for the children of Unionville-Chadds Ford. I'm thrilled to be here for another five years.”

School Board president Victor Dupuis explained the background of the salary hike, saying, “This process began in October. We got notification that Dr. Sanville was being aggressively pursued by a neighboring district. We hadn't given thought to renewing his contract early, but we were compelled to do so, or risk losing our superintendent. As a board, one of our primary responsibilities is to be absolutely convinced we have the best CEO for this district. The negotiating team looked at the comparables for this area – Chester County, Bucks County and Delaware County. What we discovered is that our superintendent's contract put him basically in the bottom third of the county in salary compensation. In total compensation, he was near the bottom. The deferred compensation aspect of a lot of these contracts is substantial.

“Specifically looking at John's contract,” Dupuis continued, “we felt that as one of the top-performing districts in the state and the country, we wanted to recognize that in our CEO. There was no fiscally responsible way to make him the top-paid superintendent in Chester County, let alone in the Philadelphia suburbs. But we felt it was important to make a substantial move in that direction.

“The salary that we are paying Dr. Sanville ranks as the second-highest current salary of any of the superintendents in the county, excluding those districts where they have multiple high schools and multiple middle schools,” Dupuis added. “When you add in all the deferred compensation that a lot of these contracts generate, this contract drops him down to about number 5 in that peer group of 10 superintendents.

“There was some discussion that this seems to have been an instantaneous decision on the part of the board, and I want to point out that this process started back in October,” Dupuis said. “It's a personnel issue. We can't bring it out into the public until we are at a point where we think it's appropriate. Honestly, we were still struggling with some language details in the contract, and it took our team of attorneys longer to draft the final version.”

Board member Jeff Hellrung commented later that the salary increase was closer to 15.4 percent. “I don't say that because it's a small amount, but I wanted to explain why I support it,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, which stretched nearly four hours, resident Peter Shea of Birmingham Township told the board that he came to the meeting “to see what extraordinary event happened that required a superintendent's contract to be redone. Dr. Sanville agreed to a contract a couple of years ago to work for 200-plus thousand dollars for four or five years. He then approached the board and said, 'If you don't come up with more money, I'm going to have to leave.' I understand all the negotiations that took place, and you came up with a good solution. But I think the question is, what is going to happen next? It seems the contract is set up so that in a year or two years, we'll be faced with a situation where Dr. Sanville may be recruited by a larger school district, a city district or whatever. At what point do you take fiduciary responsibility and say that, unfortunately, Dr. Sanville has exceeded what we're willing to pay him? We all pay him. We're the ones who are paying taxes for him. I don't know where you're going to find the other $40,000 you're going to pay him this time. I'm concerned about the next time.”

During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved John Nolen as the new assistant superintendent in the district, replacing departing assistant superintendent Ken Batchelor. Nolen's five-year contract pays $185,000 per year.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board heard from four people seeking to fill the board vacancy left by Dr. Michael Rock, who resigned recently over what he claimed was district's lack of action on incidents of racial intimidation in the district. Each candidate gave an opening statement and answered questions from the board. On Feb. 13, the board will vote to appoint a new member. The candidates are: Scott Bosch, who for the past eight years has been a social studies teacher at Upper Darby High School; Robert Smith, who has worked at law firms in New York and locally, performing corporate finance transactions; Lisa Tassone, an optometrist who has served on the district's Wellness Committee, works as a tutor and school volunteer and was the president of the Patton Middle School PTO; and Tom Day, a father of three in the district who is a finance executive, Cub Scout leader, and URA basketball coach.

The board also addressed issues surrounding Rock's departure, including what he cited as incidents of ethnic intimidation among students. During public comment, former school board member Kathy Do told the board, “Do not let anger cloud your judgment – the problems Dr. Rock identified are real. There is a new culture in this nation, and this school district, that is giving license to some people to diminish the value of others. It is happening just below the surface. I agree with Dr. Rock that it is time for this administration and the board to take proactive initiatives.”

Leah Tedesco, a senior at Unionville High School, told the board that in her sophomore year, a male student bullied her on social media. “I went to the administration, but they never got back to me,” she said. “I reported him three times in one year. I was told that it was within his First Amendment rights to be saying these things. I don't think harassment is covered by freedom of speech. At the beginning of my senior year, nothing was resolved. We ended up working things out ourselves. But it's bothered me that the administration never did anything. I don't know why, in my case, nothing was ever done.”

Sanville requested the student's contact information “so we can follow up in a non-public setting,” he said.

Further addressing the reasons for Rock's departure, board member Robert Sage said, “I'm sorry that Dr. Rock didn't work out his issues. I disagree with his assessment of the situation and the solution he proposed. These are opinions, not facts. Our district has a strong commitment to providing a welcoming climate to all students.”

Board member Gregg Lindner said that Rock “was passionate about what he did on the board. I'm very sorry that he's off the board. It's important that people have an outlet to talk about the issues. I want the community to know that if somebody has a concern as far as the tone of things or there's some type of discrimination, I would ask that they speak to Dr. Sanville or the administration. But they can also call me as a school board member and talk about it. I don't want people to think they can't talk to their school board members.”

Dupuis said, “Tolerance and respect for diversity are a strength of this district. But we're also far from perfect. I think it's appropriate that we're hearing different perspectives on this issue.”

For a video of the meeting, and documents related to the board's actions, visit www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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