By Jesse Wood
Feb. 23, 2013. Early Saturday afternoon, at the end of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners two-day annual retreat, Commissioner Perry Yates expressed disgust at the possibility of Watauga County Schools Supt. David Kafitz receiving a raise with supplemental funds from the county.
“This isn’t personal because I’ve never shook the man’s hand until yesterday. I’m just keeping up on the hearsay, people coming into the office, telephone calls, the newspaper and everything,” Yates said. “It’s just hard to sit here and keep swallowing a man making that kind of money, making that kind of an appearance, doing that kind of thing and people in the classroom are spending the money they make buying their own supplies to teach our children and him act like that.”
“I agree,” said Commissioner Billy Kennedy immediately after Yates’ comment.
After the meeting on Saturday, Yates referred specifically to Kafitz’s behavior at the Mellow Mushroom, and during the meeting, Yates mentioned that teachers were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
On Friday afternoon, Kafitz, along with two members of the school board, Ron Henries and Barbara Kinsey, and two other staff members, attended the portions of the retreat dealing with local funding of the county schools.
At yesterday’s meeting, Kafitz outlined five funding “needs” for the school system in next year’s budget. These line items, as noted at the meeting and in a memo from Kafitz to County Manager Deron Geouque, were as follows:
- Unemployment insurance increase: Schools face an increase in charges due to the deficit in the state unemployment pool
- Salary increase: N.C. Department of Instruction indicated that employees will receive an average salary increase between 1.6 to 2 percent, which would lead to increased costs for locally-paid positions
- Increase in health and retirement benefits: cost of these expected to increase a combined 6 percent
- Local supplemental increase: Due to potential turnover of aging employees, an increase in the local supplement would be a strong recruitment/retention tool
While Yates, in particular, and Chairman Miller were brisk with Kafitz during some questioning, none of the commissioners strayed from the budget matters at hand on Friday.
But Saturday was a different story. Unlike the Watauga County Board of Education, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners addressed the issue in an open, public meeting.
After all the agenda items had been discussed on Saturday, the floor was open to any commissioners who had other matters not previously covered during the two-day retreat.
Yates started off the discussion pertaining to Kafitz’s potential raise by asking if the county commissioners could essentially dictate who receives a supplemental raise and who doesn’t receive a supplemental raise with county funds.
Citing a state law, Geouque explained: “Typically, you provide the school funding to the school system, but you don’t have a direct ability to say you need to do this and this.”
Chairman Nathan Miller noted that while you can’t tell Watauga County Board of Education how to spend the funds, the commissioners can suggest how they would like to see the funds spent and go from there.
“We suggest it. We give them flexibility. We don’t want to tie their hands,” Miller said. “But if they don’t follow our suggestions we say, ‘OK, we aren’t going to supplement it.”
While Yates, one of the three recently elected commissioners, was being caught up to speed with some of the funding stipulations, he noted the triple-digit salary of Kafitz.
“I never hear anything about John’s wife (Commissioner John Welch’s wife Christy, a counselor at Mabel Elementary School). Her two percent is going to be a whole lot less than the person who has been all over the paper,” Yates said. “That’s where I am going without naming names.”
The commissioners mentioned that Kafitz’s supplemental raise would be $2,500.
Kafitz makes $120,000 per year – in addition to the annual local supplement paid to teachers and/or other employees of the school board approved by the commissioners and any longevity pay from the state to which Kafitz, as superintendent, is entitled, according to his four-year contract signed this summer.
Kafitz receives $1,000 monthly allowance for in-system travel. He also is reimbursed for out-of-system travel – transportation, food and lodging – when travel is related to official duties representing the school system – not to mention health and dental insurance, terminal pay, retirement and “other personnel benefits accorded to other professional employees of the school administrative unit as provided by law,” states his contract.
Welch, who drafted a letter to school board members about the Kafitz controversies, noted that if the contract read “may” instead of “shall” where it mentioned that Kafitz would receive the same percentage supplement as all other employees, then the commissioners would be able to avoid paying just Kafitz the supplemental raise.
But as County Manager Deron Geouque said, “The contract says what it says.”
Miller mentioned an alternative that would at least get the board’s point across: “We can drop [the overall supplement to WCS] by $2,500 and tell the school board we are giving $2,500 less and this is the reason why.”
Geouque added, “You could theoretically say you are going to cut $2,500.”
Blust chimed in, acknowledging how technically tied the commissioners hands were with these funds: “All you can do is use the bully pulpit and get your voice out in the papers.”
“This isn’t about publicity,” Yates responded. “I haven’t heard one positive thing [about Kafitz].”
“Not one,” Blust reciprocated.
After the meeting, Blust expanded on that two-word statement.
“I have heard from a number of principals and a number of teachers. I have not heard one positive thing,” Blust said. “This is about job performance.”
Below his Kafitz’s contract: