Trustees approve disputed new HR position, salary

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Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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At the Nov. 4 Winters Joint Unified School District Board of Trustee meeting, Superintendent Diana Jiménez introduced an agenda item requesting the board to approve the creation and salary schedule for a new human resources director position.

Jiménez spoke of the need to establish a Director of Human Resources position and of her intention to promote the current Human Resources Administrator Lisa Dennis to the new position that comes with a substantial pay raise.

Jiménez recommended Trustee approval of the item to, “bring the District’s human resources function in alignment with neighboring local agencies in order to ensure legal compliance, mitigate costly turnover and reduce liability.”

When the meeting opened to public comment, Andrea Hurst, Vice President of the Winters Area Educational Association, was first to speak on behalf of the association and its teachers. Hurst said the agenda item wasn’t known to many of their members until earlier in the week and that some only learned of it on the day of the meeting.

Hurst said the district has struggled to meet teacher salary commitments made by prior administrations and questioned if this is the right time to create a “costly” new position. She noted that the district is losing staff due to salaries and wondered how this would be felt by all positions, not just one or two and emphasized that all decisions should be student-centered.

“This is an absolute last resort. We want you to think how this looks and feels to us and other bargaining units … to someone on the front lines in full burn-out mode, it hurts and it doesn’t feel good.” Hurst then asked that the board make its decision carefully and with all employees in mind.

Her closing comments were greeted by audience applause. Over 50 viewers were on the Zoom meeting and attendees also were present at the live meeting.

Jiménez said the new position was designed to be a “cabinet level position” and responsible for planning, organizing and managing the daily functions of the Human Resources Department, something she said Dennis is already doing as administrator. Jiménez told trustees that the HR administrator position would not be filled if trustees approved the new HR director position. Still, the new position will have a financial impact to the district at about an additional $150,000 over the next five years.

Salary schedules were reportedly gathered by the district from neighboring agencies and analyzed to establish a competitive HR director salary, said Jiménez. The result is a five-year annual salary range starting at $89,101 and reaching $102,849 in year five for a 220-day work year. The current HR administrator salary range starts at $61,215 in year one and reaches $70,245 in year five, based on a 260-day work year.

Board President Carrie Green said the new position needed to be looked at as a business decision and that “takes the feel-good stuff out.” She said she has heard across the board that district employees are underpaid.

“We have to raise our standards, and I know it’s hard. I know, I get it. We have to raise our standards and this is one of the standards that has to be raised,” said Green. “I hear you and I know it sucks. It sucks on a year that nobody got raises and we couldn’t offer anybody anything and now these positions are coming up and I don’t like the optics either.”

The item was moved to a board vote by Green, seconded by Trustee Joedy Michael, and unanimously approved.

Due to audio lapses during the meeting, the Express reached out for comment and was told by multiple teachers that they had been instructed not to speak with the media.

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