Christina Kishimoto, the superintendent of the Hartford, Connecticut School District, has rescinded $38,976 in bonuses for some of her administrators after the district school board protested that they might be in violation of a directive that suspended all pay raises to central office staff. The bonuses, which were scheduled to be issued on October 12th and were described as “variable pay,” ranged between $6,300 and $6,720.
The bonus ban was implemented under the former board chairman David MacDonald and covered the 2011-2012 school year. It was put in place after the school system found itself in a budget crunch, and was discussing a wage freeze for district bus drivers as part of an effort to meet operating expenses.
Prior to rescinding the bonuses, Kishimoto explained in an email to the board that they formed a part of the administrators’ contracts. Top administrators in the districts were entitled to a guaranteed salary and were also eligible to receive “variable” performance bonuses at the end of the year.
“I have recently learned that the board is not comfortable with this new language and compensation system,” Kishimoto wrote Tuesday. “Therefore, I will not be processing the variable pay …
“And given the continued discomfort, I will work on revising the cabinet contracts to eliminate the current variable pay language completely and transition to fixed salaries. I have notified each cabinet member to make them aware of this immediate decision and pending changes to their contracts.”
The concern over the bonuses was first expressed by the new board chairman Matthew Poland who emailed Kishimoto on October 9th, raising the possibility that this form of merit pay could run afoul of the board order. After Kishimoto’s emailed reply, he indicated that board members were satisfied with the resolution to forgo the performance pay for the administrators. He said he was also heartened by Kishimoto’s commitment to rework the pay contracts for district’s top officials, saying that he hoped that the board and the superintendent can work together to come up with compensation scheme that will allow the district to attract and maintain top talent to its central office.
The withdrawal of bonuses comes soon after Kishimoto untangled herself from a separate controversy involving her own bonus request. Kishimoto’s lawyers demanded in an Oct. 9 letter to the city’s corporation counsel that the board pay her $15,450 in bonus money. The board refused, citing its recent annual review that gave her a poor 56 percent rating. Kishimoto, who is contractually eligible for up to $30,000 annually in performance pay, announced Saturday that she was retracting that request.