SAU 9 finance director to retire after 47 years

CONWAY — After 47 years as the school district’s finance director, Becky Jefferson, the longest-serving employee in SAU 9, plans to retire in June.

Although Jefferson gave the district advance notice in August 2017, the reality is starting to set in for members of the SAU 9 Board that life without Becky is on the horizon.

The SAU 9 Board, made up of school board members from Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Hart’s Location and Jackson, met last Thursday at the SAU 9 office, where they talked about finding Jefferson’s replacement.

Jefferson, 65, started with SAU 9 in 1972.

“The reality is Becky Jefferson is retiring on June 30,” said Superintendent Kevin Richard. “We recognize that there are a number of pieces that we need to address, and you cannot replace 47 years worth of historical knowledge and service to the SAU.”

Richard shared with the members a projected timeline for hiring Jefferson’s successor. He suggested the position be advertised next February and March across New England.

“Hopefully, we get the correct candidate, and then we’ll work through a (financial director search) committee as we typically do. It’s worked very well, the process,” Richard said.

The committee will review resumes, then bring in candidates for an interview.

“We want to make sure that we get the right

candidate and then offer and recommend, and then, hopefully, elect in April with the SAU 9 Board,” Richard said.

He asked for anyone interested in the position to notify him by next month, saying that just because they haven’t started advertising yet, it doesn’t mean “you can’t go out and start recruiting. If you know people out there, we will beg, borrow and steal whoever it happens to be.”

Jessica DellaValla of the Jackson School Board asked about retaining Jefferson’s services to help train her successor.

Richard said the proposed SAU 9 budget for 2019-20 has 200 hours built into it at $50 per hour for Jefferson.

“We took a look at the cycle of the school year and when she would be most needed,” he said. “This SAU and the financial responsibilities that go with it are extremely difficult and to navigate through. That’s an increase to the budget of $10,000 that Becky will assist the district, and I will tell you, Becky will give us 1,000 hours and get paid for 200 because that’s who she is, and, she’ll probably do it the year after, too.”

“My question is, is the time frame realistic,” Conway’s Randy Davison asked. “Should we be advertising sooner?”

“Two months is really a good time frame,” Richard replied. “You’re talking about a start date in July, so we could conceivably put it back a little earlier.”

Mark Hounsell, also of Conway, supported the set time frame. “If we were to go and hire someone in December, there’s many a slip between the lip, and they may call you in April and say, no, I’m backing out because of another deal.”

Richard said financial administrators across the Granite State are aware that Jefferson intends to retire.

Davison said he hopes someone within the SAU will nominate Jefferson for an N.H. Edie, an award given for excellence in education every year.

“If she hasn’t received one already, she should,” he said. “She has done a phenomenal job, and I would put that forward.”

“Rest assured, we’re not going to let her slip out the back door,” Hounsell said.

“It was our mistake in letting her retire in the first place,” joked Joe Lentini of Conway, who served as chair for the meeting. “We accepted her resignation, and that was a huge mistake.”

The board originally set a salary range of $81,000-$86,000, not including benefits.

“I think that salary is too low to try to attract a quality applicant,” Hounsell said, adding that Lilli Gilligan, Conway finance director, does a similar job for the town. “She does an excellent job. She’s got a $13 million budget and gets paid $91,000 I believe. I don’t think that you’re competitive at $86,000, even though it’s a jump up. We ought to discuss the wisdom of having enough in there to attract the right candidate.”

Jefferson currently makes $83,194.

“If you put out $86,000,” Hounsell said, “we’re going to be in the position we were in when we tried to hire a superintendent a few years back and hire on the cheap. We went out three different times, and we couldn’t find the applicants until we bumped it up to the market rate.”

He suggested a salary of $91,000. But Davison spoke against an increase, noting that while the district is fotunate to have both a finance director and a director of administrative services (Jim Hill), many districts of this size typically have only one person do both jobs.

Both posts have received significant salary hikes in recent years, Davison said. The finance director’s salary has been bumped up 27 percent in the past four years, while the administrative services director’s salary has risen by 20 percent, Davison said.

“In the normal world of business, those sort of raises don’t happen,” he said.

“Even with that increase to the salary,” Richard said, “do you know what percentile that salary is comparatively in the state of New Hampshire? Even with that percent increase, it’s still in the bottom 10 percent of the entire state for someone who has spent 47 years here.”

Hounsell said there were “two tragedies” around the director’s salary.

“One is that it’s tragic that whoever we hire is going to be paid more than the woman who has served us for 47 years,” he said. “That’s tragic. We have low-balled her, and she hasn’t said a thing.”

Also, he said, “those market adjustments weren’t done in one year. They were done over several years because some of us started feeling guilty that we were getting superb services and we weren’t willing to pay for it.

“The other tragedy is one we might be able to head off. It would be tragic if we didn’t have the opportunity to hire a superstar because we low-balled it at $86,000. If we go to $91,000, it doesn’t mean you have to give $91,000, it means you’ve got $91,000 if you get that superstar.”

Joe Farris of Albany agreed that the “figure should be bumped up with the possibility that we get the right candidate.” He added, “If you want to get a quality person in here, you have to pay.”

DellaValla made a motion to increase the salary to $91,000, which Hounsell seconded. The motion carried by an 8-1 vote, with Davison in the minority.

“If every person in this district that was underpaid got those sort of percentage increases, we’d have a real problem,” Davison said.

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