EDEN — While hashing out a prelimary budget for 2020-2021, the Rockingham County School Board passed a motion Monday night that would eliminate raises for Central Office and cut the 22-school district’s longtime public information officer’s salary by half and job status to part-time.
Board member and former chair Brent Huss of Ruffin was outspoken in his opposition to raises of roughly $2,000 each for Superintendent Rodney Shotwell, the system’s human resources director, and numerous assistant superintendents, program directors and the chief financial officer.
Huss ultimately made a motion that the board approve the preliminary budget that totaled $128,873,028.00, eliminating raises for administrators, cutting the PIO salary and slashing all non-contractual bonuses. The motion, seconded by board member Doug Isley of Reidsville, passed 5-1.
The preliminary budget was to be delivered to the Rockingham County Commissioners for consideration by Friday.
Karen Hyler of Eden, who was hired as the system’s PIO in December 2007, had a salary listed as $64,107. The board’s motion, which passed with 5-1, would slash that to $32,054.
It is unclear when such a change in Hyler’s position would go into effect. Asked to comment on the motions at the Monday night meeting, Isley said, “No comment.’’
Chairman Paula Rakestraw of Madison, and members Huss and Kimberley McMichael of Reidsville, and Bob Wyatt of Stoneville, could not be reached for comment.
Board member and former chair Amanda Bell of Reidsville, who voted against the motion, said Hyler has been a stellar spokesman for the school system in a particularly challenging era.
“That job is really a 24-hour job, it’s not a part-time job,’’ said Bell, a veteran educator and former assistant superintendent with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
“I have worked with PR employees in a large district and Ms. Hyler is very qualified,’’ Bell said, noting how well Hyler had managed school crises, including lockdowns and bus accidents, as well as the pandemic and resulting school closures.
“She’s done an outstanding job in that position, and I have nothing to say about her but that she’s an outstanding employee. It’s very unfortunate that this board did not see the benefit and importance of (Hyler’s full-time position). When we did not have a public relations employee, it was so difficult, and when we finally found funds so we could hire someone, it made everything so much easier. It’s just been wonderful,’’ said Bell, who expressed fear that the cut-back could force already-taxed Central Office staff to take on the added responsibility of PR.
At the start of the meeting, Huss initiated talk of cuts and the PIO salary.
Hyler, named one of the “Top 35 under 35 “ by the National School Public Relations Association, has supported more than 50 crises at RCS schools since 2007, including multiple student deaths.
“The Public Information Officer position, I feel like needs to be a part-time position with a 50 percent cut of that line item,’’ Huss said. “These are really tough decisions, tough times. It’s nothing personal with anyone. Ah, I think everybody deserves raises. Well over half of Rockingham County has suffered with this ( the pandemic), and it’s just not the time to be taking these actions.’’
Shotwell reminded Huss that proposed salary increases for administrators were made before the COVID19-related economic downturn.
“We are in concurrence about the raises,’’ Shotwell said. “When we proposed those, the pandemic hadn’t hit North Carolina. And we were anticipating … a 1 or 2% state raise. So if a state raise doesn’t’ come through, you don’t have to worry about us. It’s (administrative salaries) gonna stay the same.’’
If administrators must face cuts, Bell asked that supplements for certified teachers, as well as step salary increases for classified employees be held back, “until we get a clear understanding of what our budget is going to look like.’’ Her motion to that effect did not receive a second and failed.
McMichael asked Shotwell and fellow board members whether the damaged economy may mean cutting positions or public school programs, supposing the state cannot deliver funds to the district.
“It just depends,’’ Shotwell said. “Back in 2008, we did receive federal relief … it supplemented the loss of state funds to try to help stabilize school districts. For three years, we had two different funds … and we had the stimulus stabilization funds that went to us and governmental agencies, both local and state. So we just have to wait and see what monies are gonna be coming down our way.’’
Board attorney Nick Herman said time will tell. “(The) forecast is that finally, in October, you would be able to approve a final budget. But between now and then, in terms of what’s happening with the economy, there may be all kinds of things that you’re gonna have no choice but to cut … that includes programs.’’
Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101 and on Twitter @SusieSpear_RCN.
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