New Waukegan School District 60 superintendent Theresa Plascencia speaks with school board president Michael Rodriguez (left) and vice president Rick Riddle (right) during a welcome event in Waukegan. (Yadira Sanchez Olson / Lake County News-Sun)
After less than 10 months on the job, Waukegan School District 60’s new superintendent is getting a $25,000 pay bump immediately, set raises moving forward and other perks that at least one school board member thought were too much in exchange for her staying an extra two years.
The board approved, in a 6-1 vote, the amended contract for Superintendent Theresa Plascencia, who officially took over District 60’s top job in July after spending about three months in the district conducting a listening-and-learning tour and meeting with retiring Superintendent Donaldo Batiste and staff.
Under the contract amendments approved Tuesday, Plascencia’s base pay will jump to $235,000 from $210,000, a 12 percent increase. The new contract provisions also guarantee her 4 percent raises as long as she receives good evaluations from the school board, instead of the previous language that ensured her raises at least on par with what other administrators receive.
The higher base salary and set raises mean that Plascencia will earn just over $264,000 in the final year of the contract, about $18,000 more than Batiste made after 10 years with the district. That does not include the potential bonus pay that was also added to the contract.
The idea was to bring Plascencia’s salary in line with other area districts, she said, adding that the salary increase was the result of a renegotiation, something different than a typical annual raise.
Full-time superintendent salaries in Lake County ranged from $122,000 for 185-student Grass Lake District 36 to about $315,000 for the 215-student Northern Suburban Special Education District, according to 2015-16 data collected by the Illinois State Board of Education. Among the state’s 10 largest school districts (Waukegan is No. 10), base salaries for full-time superintendents ranged from $213,000 at Rockford District 205 to $269,000 at Aurora-based Indian Prairie District 204.
Under the approved amendments, the district will also increase its contributions to a retirement annuity to $15,000 each year from $5,000; pay Plascencia $8,000 in moving expenses without her having to show receipts; waive for the final two years of the contract the $25,000 penalty Plascencia would have to pay if she left the district mid-contract; and eliminate the cap on the number of unused vacation and personal days that she can cash in for pay.
The eliminated vacation day cap means that Plascencia could potentially earn an extra $10,800 in pay next year, for a total of about $24,400, assuming she took none of her 25 days of vacation time or her two personal days.
Board President Michael Rodriguez said Plascencia approached the board about a contract extension seeking assurances that she would be in the district for longer than just the next two years, especially in light of the uncertainty of the then-upcoming school board election. Plascencia is in the process of closing on a house in the district.
Plascencia contested the characterization that she approached the board, saying it was more about the board and her coming to a consensus about how to extend the contract. She added that it was not unusual for superintendents to renew their contracts heading into their second year since the hiring process for superintendents can last more than a year.
The board didn’t want Plascencia to even think about moving on, Rodriguez said, adding that Plascencia is well-known in the national education community and that knowledge about what she’s been doing in Waukegan is spreading widely.
Over the course of this year, Plascencia has shown she can make the "drastic changes" necessary to make Waukegan a "premier district," Rodriguez said, pointing to the elimination of certain management positions, the installation of air conditioning into more buildings, the building improvements that have been done, the return of elementary-level summer school and the proposed expansion of full-day kindergarten across the district.
"She hasn’t given us excuses. She’s given us results," he said, adding that the board felt the contract was a "good investment" for the district and its students.
Plascencia, who said she foresees being in Waukegan for a long time, said teachers often voice concerns about how long changes are going to last before new ones come. She’s been trying to send them a message of consistency through things like longer teachers union contracts.
"I think the board was excited by what they’re seeing and the trust we’re building back with our teachers," she said. "I believe (the contract extension) should boost morale because they know the current administration will be here for the next five years."
Board member June Maguire, who is set to retire from the board at the end of the month, was the sole "no" vote. She said that in her 36 years on the Waukegan school board, she’s worked with six other superintendents, none of whom ever "had requests of this magnitude."
"I just couldn’t do that to the citizens of Waukegan," Maguire said, pointing to seniors on fixed incomes and the district’s poverty levels. "Some don’t make even what she’s requested in additional compensation."
Maguire said previous raises were in line with other staff, and one superintendent even opted to go without a raise one year because of the district’s finances.
Plascencia was picked to succeed Batiste in December 2015, and the board approved her contract in April — plenty of time, Maguire said, for Plascencia to negotiate the terms if she thought she was being undercompensated.
While Maguire said she doesn’t regret hiring Plascencia, she expressed disappointment in the timing of the contract changes, and added that she still has questions about some policy changes, including to student discipline and the restructuring of some administrative departments and Waukegan High School.
The board won’t know the effects of the changes made by Plascencia for two to three years, she said.
While Rodriguez said that’s true and that he hopes the amended contract doesn’t hurt employee morale, he said the board based the decision on the impacts already made.
"I just went through a whole list of things that she’s already done," he said. "The proof is there. We’re just in awe of the things she’s already done. We’re not basing this on just vague expectations of the future."