Parents, teachers protest raise for Lake Ridge superintendent
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent June 9, 2014 12:04PM
Protesters make their voices heard Monday against a proposal to give Lake Ridge School Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley a raise. | Michelle L. Quinn/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2014 8:24PM
GARY — Lake Ridge schools parents, teachers and students packed a special school board meeting Monday night, angrily objecting to a proposed pay raise for Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley.
About 15 people spoke in opposition to the raise during the public hearing. The board plans to vote on the raise at its June 23 meeting.
Johnson-Shirley is asking for a five-year contract extension and a $23,750 salary increase to $150,000 as of July 2015. The contract would take her 16-year tenure as superintendent through the 2019-20 school year. Her benefits would stay the same under the extended pact.
Teachers lambasted the superintendent for asking for a raise when teachers and clerical or custodial staff have not received one since the 2011-12 school year. April Vician, the daughter of a clerk who was let go last year, said the loss of her mother’s job really took a toll on their family.
“To see that you could get a raise when my mother’s income is gone really upsets me,” she told Johnson-Shirley. “If (board members) are able to sleep at night, good for you, but I’d be disappointed if (the raise) happens.”
Some of the speakers criticized Johnson-Shirley for the actions of former Calumet New Tech Principal Tim Pivarnik and former district Finance Manager Jim Huddleston. Pivarnik was dismissed in 2012 amid sexual harassment allegations, and Huddleston admitted to stealing $134,000 from the school system.
But resident Sandy Heston said she doesn’t fault Johnson-Shirley for asking for a raise and absolved Johnson-Shirley for the problems with Pivarnik and Huddleston, saying “she didn’t make one be a predator, and she didn’t force the other one to steal.”
Longfellow School second-grade teacher Christina McCarty said Johnson-Shirley visited the school “less than five times” during this school year even though students from Grissom Elementary School in Black Oak, which closed as of this school year, had been moved to Longfellow.
Teachers union president Dan Brugioni said Johnson-Shirley’s raise would make her “the highest-paid superintendent with the fewest number of schools” in Lake County. Lake Ridge operates five schools.
But business manager Laura Hubinger said Johnson-Shirley’s raise would make her salary comparable to that of superintendents of similar districts. For comparison, School Town of Highland Superintendent Brian Smith receives $151,000 to manage six schools, and Lake Central Superintendent Larry Verracco makes $150,000 to oversee 10 schools, Hubinger said.
She also pointed out that Lake Ridge teachers remain among the highest paid in the region.
During the meeting, Johnson-Shirley acknowledged the comments and wished parents and staff a good summer. After the meeting, she sighed with some resignation.
“I knew it was going to be like this because people are human and they do human things,” she said. “I haven’t asked for a raise in four or five years. ... But there comes a time when I’m not going to make apologies for asking. We are recognized nationally for New Tech. Three years ago, (the school district was) on probation, and in less than a year, we got off it. Everything is in our favor.”
Several parents, former employees and students picketed at Ridge Road and Colfax Street during the day Monday in protest of Johnson-Shirley getting a pay hike.
In another matter Monday night, school board member Toni Modglin resigned because she and her family moved to Hobart. Board president Glenn Johnson said the position would be posted this week but won’t be filled in time for the June 23 vote.