Saturday May 19, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The philosophical question of whether to hire a teacher fresh out of college at a lower salary or one with years of experience who lands higher on the pay scale came up this week as Mount Anthony Union High School sided with the latter to fill a vacant art teacher position.

"Masters plus 30"

The decision to hire a $62,000 full-time teacher who falls into the "masters plus 30" bracket on the pay scale narrowly passed 5-3 after being debated briefly by the board.

"In Bennington we have asked the superintendent to please bring back candidates with five or less years in experience because money is pretty tight," said MAU board member Ken Swierad, who is also chairman of the Bennington School District board. "I just think that ($62,000) is so much to put into a teaching position. We could probably get somebody for $35,000."

The candidate hired to teach ceramics classes, Elizabeth Howe, has 18 years of experience teaching visual arts in Ballston Spa, N.Y., and has also given lectures at Skidmore College, been a contributing writing to Ceramics Monthly Magazine, and been featured in many art exhibits across the country.

Principal Sue Maguire, who along with two art teachers interviewed 10 of the 82 applicants, told Swierad the candidate recommended to the board was clearly the most qualified for the position.

Maguire said she is always conscious of the salary demands of candidates and only recommends a candidate high on the pay scale if she believes there is no other option.


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"I think this is the first person that isn’t less than five years that I’ve hired," she said.

"I knew it would be controversial. I also knew it was the best decision for our students. I have to balance that," Maguire said. "I think my job is to hire the very best person available for our students."

After interviewing applicants, Maguire told the board she asked Superintendent Catherine McClure for advice on how to proceed because the best candidate did have so much experience.

"I asked Catherine what I should do. Should I hire the most qualified person, because it is a ceramics job; it is a very specific job (and) specific skill, and I said do you want me to go for the one that isn’t as good or do you want me to go for the best person."

McClure agreed because of the uniqueness of the position it was important to hire someone with experience teaching ceramics.

Even with the explanation, some board members were not convinced a less expensive candidate could not be found.

"Specialty or no specialty, we could hire two people for this price," Swierad said.

Leon Johnson echoed a similar sentiment.

"We said that when we were going to set up our structure in the organization from central office down ... that we were going to go out here and try to get people with five years (experience)," Johnson said.

Swierad, Johnson and Peter Frantz voted against the hire.

Even though he voted in favor, Timothy Holbrook told administrators he had reservations.

"I voted for it because I support the principal of the high school. But I think that Ken and Leon and those who spoke strongly about this issue have a real point, and I hope that in the future you will doubly consider the affect that this kind of decision has on the budget," Holbrook said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com