October 31, 2023
By Rachel Scofield
In September, the superintendent of Pickerington Schools, Dr. Chris Briggs, received a pay raise which sparked some discontent among the teachers’ union. Briggs, who has been leading the district since 2017, saw his annual base salary increase by $15,000 or 8.2%, for a total of $197,500. His total compensation package, including benefits, went up by 11.2%.
In addition, the superintendent is now eligible for a “Performance Based Annuity Benefit”. If the school board finds Briggs has successfully performed the duties in his job description and the district has achieved board-defined goals, then he will receive an extra $15,000 in annuities for the school year.
Before approval, a third party provided the board with a report comparing the salaries of other Central Ohio superintendents to what Dr. Briggs was making. Districts with new superintendents (and some with higher salaries than Superintendent Briggs) include but are not limited to, Westerville, Dublin, Olentangy, Worthington, Dayton, Upper Arlington, Lakota, New Albany, and Columbus City.
The district supplied the following statement:
During a time when turnover is high among superintendents across the country, Dr. Briggs has demonstrated leadership and commitment to Pickerington Schools. Dr. Briggs is one of the longest-serving superintendents in Central Ohio — he has served six years at Pickerington Schools and 10½ years total as a superintendent.
The high turnover rate has impacted Central Ohio, with 13 out of 19, or 68%, of Columbus-area school district superintendents leaving their districts since 2020. (Source: Axios Columbus 5/15/23)
With Dr. Briggs at the helm, the district continues to grow and improve — academically, in the arts, and athletically. A few examples of this progress include:
- Last school year, the district earned 4 stars on the State Report Card, and this year, the district improved to 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 stars. An overall 3 stars means a district meets the state standards. Pickerington Schools’ 4.5 rating demonstrates that students consistently exceed the state academic standards.
- Pickerington Schools has successfully moved forward with its Plan for Progress, the district’s strategic plan, which was proposed, developed, and implemented under Dr. Briggs’ leadership.
- The district successfully passed a bond issue last November and is moving forward with building a new junior high school to alleviate overcrowding.
Board President Keith Kristoff said, “I can’t speak for other board members, but some of the topics the board discussed when trying to decide on Superintendent Briggs’ salary were that the district is moving in the right direction, the student population and future growth projections compared to other districts, continuity is very important, Dr. Briggs has over a decade of superintendent experience and comparative salaries with other Central Ohio districts.”
The school board approved the raise four to one. Board member Cathy Olshefski was the lone dissenter.
“Such increases are usually arrived at after an in-depth analysis of performance and goals achieved during the prior year,” Olshefski said. “In my opinion, what was presented to and reviewed by the board did not justify the large increase in compensation. Based on our budget forecast, we will undoubtedly be going on the ballot in 18-24 months with an operating levy.”
Salary levels for all other Pickerington Schools employs have been limited to less than three percent. The Pickerington Education Association (PEA), which represents the district’s teachers, expressed frustration over the disparity between Briggs’ raise and their own. The teachers received a 2.5% pay raise for the 2023-24 school year and a 2.0% raise for 2024-25.
“There was a sense of frustration,” said PEA President Brad Harris. “During bargaining we provided a lot of data to the district that showed that Pickerington teachers are one of the lowest paid compared to comparable districts, including the ones they compared Superintendent salaries with.”
According to Harris, Pickerington has one of the highest, if not the highest class sizes in central Ohio. Even places like Columbus public are decreasing class sizes to meet students’ needs. However, class sizes have been increasing in Pickerington. Additionally, the district has really high student to teacher ratios for special education students and English language learners, which makes it difficult to offer services to these students.
“With our growing population, we need more staffing to meet the needs of our students,” Harris said. “We believe the lower salaries, the large class sizes, and the excessive workload makes it more difficult to recruit new teachers and impact the numbers of resignations that we are having. The number of teachers that resign from our district each year has more than doubled in the last five years.”
However, the school board keeps saying that they cannot afford to pay staff more or hire more staff because of financial shortages.
The Pickerington Support Staff Association (PSSA), which represents most of the non-teaching positions within the district, negotiated to receive a 3.0% raise for the current school year and two following.
The average salary of school district employees in 2022 was $42,784 and the median salary was $28,772. The district has about 10,500 students and 1,200 staff members.
“I do not have issues with paying our superintendent a competitive salary,” Harris said. “It is frustrating when we see such a high turnover rate for our certified staff, support staff, and principals. When you compare the salaries of these positions with the comparable districts, we are among the lowest paid.”
The PEA expects that the board to be responsible stewards of school district funds and direct more resources and funding towards the staff that are directly engaging with the students every day.
To this end, the PEA has endorsed two candidates in the November 2023 election for the board of education – Cathy Olshefski and Mark Henson.
At its October 23 meeting, the board approved additional salary increases for the administrators. Factors taken into consideration for the additional compensation were longevity, evaluation ratings, building academic ratings, and level of responsibilities. The board approved the total amount of money to be distributed, and the superintendent made the final disbursement determination.