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September 3, 2015

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Education:

School District reconsidering hiring decision after official accused of favoritism

The Clark County School Board tabled a vote on a new hire contract Thursday after a union official accused the district's human resources chief of picking a friend for a job — and then offering her more money than usual.

The School District has been looking for a new director of school and department recruitment within its Human Resources Division after the former director took another job in the district.

Chief Human Resources Officer Staci Vesneske came to the district in summer 2011, after serving as the assistant superintendent of human resources for Spokane Public Schools in Washington.

Vesneske is now recommending the district hire Melissa Hallead, the executive director of human resources for Vancouver Public Schools in Washington, to be the new director of school and department recruitment in Clark County. Hallead, who has nearly 20 years experience in schools, has a master of education degree from Concordia University and a bachelor's of science degree in business education from Central Washington University.

Vesneske and Hallead served together on the board of Washington School Personnel Association, an organization advocating for school human resources professionals.

A tentative contract to hire Hallead was supposed to go before the School Board Thursday, but the item was pulled from the meeting agenda after an administrative union leader publicly questioned Vesneske's connection with Hallead and her salary offer.

Hallead was offered a first-year salary of about $97,000 for the Clark County position. That is Step G on the administrative salary schedule.

That's higher than what is allowed under the district's contract with the administrative union, said Stephen Augsburger, the executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees.

The administrative contract stipulates that new hires from outside the district must start at Step C, which is four levels below Step G, Augsburger said.

A Step C salary would be about $80,000 for Hallead.

In a time of austerity measures, Hallead was unfairly placed ahead of loyal and longtime district employees, Augsburger argued.

"(Vesneske) is doing a special consideration for a friend," Augsburger said. "It's a slap in the face to every administrator when everyone else has to work laterally across the salary schedule."

Vesneske contends Hallead is a "friendly colleague" who has visited her in Las Vegas several times, but has never stayed at her residence.

And Vesneske is adamant she played an insignificant role in Hallead's hiring process.

When Hallead expressed interest in the position after seeing it posted on the district's website, Vesneske pointed her to a colleague in her department. That's it, she said.

Vesneske didn't review Hallead's file or sit in on the team interview with Hallead. Vesneske also said she didn't write a recommendation for Hallead, choosing another candidate instead.

"I'm not the one who placed her," Vesneske said. "It was a very transparent process."

Furthermore, Vesneske argued the administrative contract allows for Superintendent Dwight Jones to make exceptions, such as placing an administrative candidate at a higher salary than Step C.

Vesneske said an exception was made in Hallead's case because her base salary in Vancouver was $121,861, according to the Kitsap Sun. Even with the Step G salary, Hallead would effectively be taking about a $25,000 pay cut to come to Clark County.

"We didn't go out of our way to recruit (Hallead) because I didn't think she would be interested," Vesneske said. "She took a paycut – just like I did – because we believe in Jones' vision."

Regardless, Augsburger argued the administrative contract states: "In any event, Step F will be the highest placement" for both district and outside candidates. That means even if Hallead could be offered higher than a Step C salary, she must be capped at Step F – not at Step G, Augsburger said. That would mean she would make about $93,000 at most.

That's one interpretation, Vesneske said. The School District is reviewing the hiring process and the salary offer for Hallead and plans come back to the School Board with a recommendation after the review is complete, she said.

"I am very disappointed there are allegations that I influenced (the recommendation for Hallead)," Vesneske said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but our goal is to do what's best to implement the superintendent's vision."

Augsburger remains skeptical however. It's not fair to the hundreds of loyal administrators who have been working for years in the district to have an outside candidate start above them, he said.

Before the current salary freeze, administrators had to remain on Step F for four years and have 18 years of experience in the district before moving up the salary ladder to Step G, Augsburger added, citing the contract.

Now, Hallead – who has no seniority in Clark County – could start at Step G if her contract is approved.

"It doesn't send a good message to those laboring on Step F and have 18 years in the district," Augsburger said. "Everyone needs to be treated fairly."

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