By Raiza Giorgi
On a 3-2 vote, over the heated objections of some parents and staff members, the Buellton Union School Board has approved a 20 percent raise for Superintendent Randal Haggard as the district prepares to merge with the Vista del Mar School District.
At a raucous meeting May 8, some audience members raised concerns about granting the raise before a shared-services agreement with the Vista district is even final. One parent refers to Haggard as “a villain” for taking the increase while teachers and other staff members had to endure cuts as a result of last year’s fiscal crisis.
“Dr. Haggard has clearly shown staff, students, board and community members his interests lie solely with improving his financial situation at the expense of students and staff,” said Leanna Watson. “Typically, villains have slightly more hubris and are convinced they will succeed. However, Dr. Haggard has gone so far as to propose his own golden parachute… a lush package when when he is terminated, as he knows this board, and the good people of Buellton have seen through him and will not tolerate his outrageous behavior.”
Haggard’s current salary is about $146,000; his new three-year contract increases that to $175,000 per year. He also receives full medical benefits and 24 vacation days per year.
Haggard will also be eligible for other raises that are offered to certificated (non-teaching) staff, which are commonly referred to as ‘me too’ increases. If he is terminated before the agreement is up, he will be paid an amount equal to his salary for 12 months, or the remainder of the agreement if it’s less than 12 months.
Haggard’s increase in salary will begin next year, in the 2019-20 school year, when the tiny Vista district on the Gaviota Coast will begin sending its middle-school students to Buellton under a three-year shared-services agreement.
Haggard said the additional money he will receive will come from the Vista district and from changes to the special-education consortium funding model, and that through the agreement the Buellton district will see enough savings to support an additional shared assistant principal.
At the meeting one of the Buellton school aides made a tearful plea to bring back the two aide positions that were lost this year because she is overwhelmed having to watch 150 students at a time without any backup.
Wendy Campbell asked how Haggard’s raise compared to other superintendents in the valley, specifically that of Solvang’s Superintendent Dr. Steve Seaford. She noted that Haggard had spent less time than Seaford as an assistant superintendent and didn’t partake in the ‘me too’ raises.
“Obviously there is money, so it should go back to the students and the services we lost,” Wendy Berry said.
“I am merely here to ask this one question: ‘Why do administration salaries take priority over our kids’ services and school quality?” said parent Adriana Palacios.
“Your opinions don’t go on deaf ears, but I want to publicly disagree with the vilification and the personal attack against Dr. Haggard, who is doing his job and working hard to keep the district running. There are ways to disagree civilly,” board member Elysia Lewis said.
The vote to increase Haggard’s salary was 3-2, with Lewis and board member Jessie Skidmore dissenting.
For Buellton, the addition of the Vista middle-schoolers could mean more revenue, including $90,000 from increased enrollment as well as payments by the Gaviota district for 40 percent of an assistant principal position and $10,000 for fiscal oversight.
Vista has 49 students, including 17 sixth- and seventh-graders. The lone eighth-grader has already transferred to Jonata Middle School in the Buellton district.
Haggard has stated that previously that the Buellton district lost about $400,000 from its annual budget after an unusually large eighth-grade class graduated in June 2018.
“The misconception is that the money is being taken away from teachers, but it isn’t. The funding model we have now is decreasing in revenue and isn’t sustainable. The cuts that happened last year were awful and the decisions were hard, but with those cuts we saved teaching positions,” Haggard said.
In an earlier analysis of the Buellton district, Assistant Superintendent Bill Ridgeway at the Santa Barbara County Education Office said that without large budget reductions in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, the district would become fiscally insolvent in 2019-20 and would then be facing an entirely new set of problems, including the partial loss of local control.
“Hopefully with the Buellton/Vista merger being worked out currently, the revenue will be able to bring back some of the positions we lost,” Haggard added.
Noozhawk’s Janene Scully contributed to this story. She can be reached at email@example.com.