Vancouver schools chief’s compensation rises despite complaint

Board praised Webb's work ethic and vision, but issued 'guidance' over behavior

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter

Published:

 

What: Letter of Direction-Civility to Staff

To: Steve Webb, superintendent, Vancouver Public Schools

From: School board

Issued: Aug. 27, 2013

Key points:

o Refrain from unprofessional/uncivil behavior.

o Review district's policy on bullying and harassment.

o Use existing vacation time, as appropriate, to reduce stress and report to work well-rested.

o Complete physical and mental evaluations.

o Commit to personal wellness program, with a focus on diet and exercise.

o Complete a stress-management program.

o Work with an executive coach to provide guidance and feedback.

o Receive evaluations from district leaders, as developed by an outside consultant.

Everett: $177,868

Northshore: $187,000

Puyallup: $191,294

Evergreen $196,362

Vancouver (Webb's salary): $202,400

Lake Washington: $210,000

Highline: $220,000

Edmonds: $226,351

Bellevue: $237,000

Federal Way: $240,000

What: Letter of Direction-Civility to Staff

To: Steve Webb, superintendent, Vancouver Public Schools

From: School board

Issued: Aug. 27, 2013

Key points:

o Refrain from unprofessional/uncivil behavior.

o Review district’s policy on bullying and harassment.

o Use existing vacation time, as appropriate, to reduce stress and report to work well-rested.

o Complete physical and mental evaluations.

o Commit to personal wellness program, with a focus on diet and exercise.

o Complete a stress-management program.

o Work with an executive coach to provide guidance and feedback.

o Receive evaluations from district leaders, as developed by an outside consultant.

Everett: $177,868

Northshore: $187,000

Puyallup: $191,294

Evergreen $196,362

Vancouver (Webb’s salary): $202,400

Lake Washington: $210,000

Highline: $220,000

Edmonds: $226,351

Bellevue: $237,000

Federal Way: $240,000

In the climate of shrinking budgets, not many public employees have received a 28 percent increase in total compensation over the past six years. But Steve Webb, superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools, has negotiated salary increases, additional cash outs and stipends to push his total compensation from $208,000 to more than $268,000 since starting the job in 2008.

The school board is still negotiating Webb’s 2014-2015 contract and expects to have it inked by the end of July, said Dale Q. Rice, whose term as board president ended July 15.

What kind of salary increase will Webb receive this year? As Webb has seen his compensation increase, his teachers have gone without a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008.

“My compensation for 2012-13 is still $10,000 below the average. Today, it would be about $20,000 below,” Webb said in an interview this spring.

The school board has presented Webb with a “Letter of Direction” for uncivil behavior, yet they continue to compensate him well. Although Webb’s base salary has increased 5.4 percent over the years, his total compensation has increased by 28 percent.

The school board agreed to change Webb’s contract to allow him to cash out all 30 days of his vacation pay annually, while at the same time requesting that he “use existing vacation time, as appropriate, to reduce stress and report to work well-rested.”

“When we’ve got a hot-shot player, you need to be mindful of it. And respect it,” Rice said.

Awards, accolades

Rice said the district’s achievements in the past six years under Webb’s leadership “have been extraordinary.”

Webb was one of eight superintendents nationwide to receive the 2014 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award. In July 2013, Webb represented the district at a White House workshop focused on using technology in schools to boost innovation. In May 2013, Vancouver was one of the only four districts in the nation to be selected by the National School Boards Association to demonstrate how its students use technology — and it is the only district that’s been selected three times. In 2011, Webb received the Robert J. Handy Most Effective Administrator Award from the Washington Association of School Administrators.

Courtney Eyer, president of the Vancouver Education Association teachers’ union, said she and her fellow teachers have a good relationship with Webb and that teachers “light up” when Webb walks into their classrooms.

A note by a school board member, obtained through a public records request, listed Webb’s qualities: “gifted visionary, man of action, prodigious work ethic, the board marvels at energy and talent.”

The school board member’s note also lists the areas Webb needs to improve: “impatient, intense … The board is seeking balance for long-term — a marathon, not a sprint.”

Hostile environment alleged

A public records request unearthed a June 11, 2013, complaint against Webb by a longtime female employee in the district office. The memo’s subject line reads: “hostile work environment,” and the memo recounts a June 6, 2013, encounter with Webb after a staff meeting. She said she was meeting with another staff member when Webb entered her office and began treating her in an uncivil manner.

“I was offended by his manner and tone with me and I was glad my supervisor was there to observe this interaction,” she wrote. “I felt that Dr. Webb was intentionally intimidating me and wanted to imply that I was one of the following: lacking skills to do my job, mentally ill, hormonal because I was a female, or my age was a deficiency.”

In August 2013, the school board issued a letter of direction to Webb, outlining what he needed to do to improve.

Webb, 50, said he was experiencing extraordinary stress in his life when he raised his voice to a the staff member. His grandmother, mother and sister died within a short time period. His sister, a single mother who died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, left behind an 18-year-old daughter. The teen moved into the Webb home and now attends Washington State University Vancouver.

After the board received the staff member’s complaint, members began holding special meetings and adding executive sessions to their regular meetings to address the problem. In all, the board met 26 times in executive session for more than 30 hours to discuss the performance of a public employee, including spending 3½ hours on Aug. 27, 2013 to draft the letter of direction to Webb.

Specific steps

The school board’s letter laid out specific steps both Webb and the district would take to address the staff member’s complaint, including a directive that Webb “use existing vacation time, as appropriate, to reduce stress and report to work well rested.”

The district spent about $12,000 to hire executive coach consultant Art Jarvis to meet with Webb, observe his management style and advise him.

The district asked all five school board members and 77 employees, including school principals and district administrators, to participate in a performance evaluation of Webb and his management style.

Evaluation responses include: “Misses opportunities by not always being inviting to listening to other’s views. Body language and sharp retort at times shows impatience with those who disagree with his views. Needs to be more inviting to different perspectives. His oratory and written skills are superb. It is the little nuances and ability to be inviting to listening to others’ views that he still needs to work on.”

The results weren’t news to the school board.

“As in previous evaluations of Dr. Webb, the board recognizes that Dr. Webb’s sense of urgency and intensity, on occasion, may interfere or inhibit some staff collaboration and the free exchange of ideas,” members of the board wrote. “Going forward, the board realizes the need for a different evaluation tool to help us understand and maximize Dr. Webb’s considerable skills and to help him further improve his communication skills.”

Webb said the board has provided him with support and direction, adding: “Their role is to evaluate and support me to a higher level of performance. They’ve been judicious, thoughtful and deliberate.”

Work-life balance

Managing a school district that serves 23,000 students is not a 9-to-5 job. Up until Webb received the letter of direction from the board, he says he had been working weekends and evenings, often working 60 to 70 hours per week.

Rice said the school board wants Webb to strike a good balance between work and other aspects of his life, and that the board is concerned about his health.

“It’s an area I’ve always struggled with,” Webb said. “This is about reducing stress.”

In the past school year, Webb’s new rule was no more weekends and only attending two evening events per week. Webb says he regrets spending so much time working, away from his family. His wife, Lisa Webb, works part-time as a speech language pathologist for Battle Ground Public Schools. Their children, ages 7 and 10, attend Felida Elementary School.

“Family is a core value,” he said. “I haven’t necessarily been consistent in managing my schedule.”

When asked whether the board has seen changes in Webb since issuing the letter of direction, Rice said: “Yeah. He seems calmer.”

Contract perks

During his first two years on the job, Webb’s contract allowed for the board to give him up to a $10,000 bonus, but he asked the board not to grant the bonus because of the recession. Before his third year, the language in his contract regarding the bonus was dropped, but $10,000 was added to Webb’s annuity annually.

Typically, at the end of each school year, school boards review superintendent contracts and determine superintendent compensation for the following school year. Compensation begins with base salary, but then adds perks including annuities, vacation cash out, stipends for advanced degrees and a vehicle allowance.

Webb’s first contract allowed him to buy back unused vacation only “upon termination of employment.” But that arrangement didn’t last long. After two years in the job, Webb negotiated his contract to allow him to buy back 30 days of unused vacation annually. In the four years since that change, Webb has cashed in his maximum vacation days for $29,181 annually.

Other districts

By comparison, John Deeder, superintendent of Evergreen Public Schools, is allowed to buy back only 15 vacation days per year, for $13,449.48. Northshore School District allows its superintendent to buy back 10 vacation days per year. Lake Washington’s superintendent may cash out up to 50 vacation days each June, but in 2012-2013, the superintendent cashed out only 5.71 vacation days for $5,504.

Webb’s pay falls somewhere in the middle when compared to the base salary of superintendents who serve similarly sized school districts, according to records obtained by The Columbian. Base superintendent salary in those districts — Bellevue, Edmonds, Everett, Evergreen, Federal Way, Highline, Lake Washington, Northshore and Puyallup — range from $177,000 to $240,000 a year.

Current contract

Webb’s contract for 2013-2014 was signed in February rather than July 2013 in order to give him time to work on the steps outlined in the school board’s letter of direction.

“Dr. Webb completed all requirements stated in the letter of direction, and we received positive reports from Dr. Art Jarvis, the executive coach,” the board wrote in a statement. “On Feb. 11, 2014, the board acted unanimously on a contract adjustment and extension.”

Webb’s new contract increased his base salary by $10,400 for the remainder of the school year, bumping his annual base salary next school year to $216,960.

For the first time, the new contract allows Webb to be compensated $4,000 a year for holding a doctorate degree, which he earned before he was hired. Because his contract was signed later than usual, he was only able to receive $1,666.66 for his degree during the 2013-2014 school year.

“It’s a way to honor the guy for what he’s done,” Rice said.

Only three of the comparable districts, Everett, Northshore and Puyallup, compensated superintendents for holding an advanced degree.

“He’s a Type A. Hard-working,” said Mark Stoker, incoming board president. “That’s what we want for our district.”