LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s schools superintendent is defending the pay raises he gave his top staffers earlier this year as temporary hikes that are part of a strategy to ease the transition for his successor.
Those who received raises include Tom Luna’s former deputy chief of staff, Jason Hancock, whose wage was bumped from $44.40 per hour to $65.23 per hour. Former communications director Melissa McGrath received a raise from $36 per hour to $49.54.
Both Hancock and McGrath have since left the Idaho Department of Education, but most of the 22 people who also received raises remain, Luna told the Lewiston Tribune.
The rest of the department’s 140 employees received a 1 percent pay increase and a 1 percent bonus.
Luna said that after he announced his decision in January not to run for another term, department positions that came open were intentionally left unfilled. He used the money saved from those salaries to reward employees who took on extra work, he said.
“When people left, we chose not to replace them,” he said. “Primarily because I wanted to give the next superintendent the chance to hire the people they would want in that place.”
The vacancies include four deputy superintendent positions, jobs that paid about $100,000 a year.
Democrat Jana Jones and Republican Sherri Ybarra are campaigning to replace Luna in January. The winner will have about $300,000 in salary savings to work with, Luna said.
“That was a big part of the discussion,” Luna said. “How do we create a smooth transition? And I think this was the best way.”
Luna also has requested a 6.9 percent increase in education spending from the governor and the state Legislature. That would boost Idaho’s public school funding by $94 million in fiscal year 2015, if approved.
He has said the winner of November’s election to replace him will be invited to attend senior staff meetings to ease the transition.
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