Everett schools chief gets pay raise

EVERETT — Everett Public Schools Superintendent Gary Cohn received a pay raise for the next academic year.

Cohn’s pay will rise to a base salary of $187,521 per year, plus $30,825 in negotiated additional salary, for total annual pay of $218,346.

Cohn’s total salary for the 2013-14 academic year was $206,948, on a base salary of $185,222.

The salary bump was approved by the school district’s board of directors in a special session Monday. Last week in a separate action, the board approved extending Cohn’s three-year contract by a year to 2017.

Everett Public Schools spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said the district’s board examined 12 other districts that were either of comparable size or within Snohomish County as comparisons to determine Cohn’s total compensation. Those districts were Arlington, Auburn, Bellevue, Bethel, Edmonds, Everett, Highline, Issaquah, Monroe, Mukilteo, Northshore, Renton and Snohomish.

The goal was to set Cohn’s salary between the 50th-75th percentiles.

Ranked by the superintendent’s total compensation, Everett ranked 12th out of the 13 districts last year, according to data published by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

If none of the other districts in the county increased their superintendent’s pay over last year, Cohn’s raise would nudge his compensation level up two notches, placing it above Auburn, Monroe and Bethel on the list but still just below the midpoint in the range of total compensation.

One reason for the discrepancy is that when Cohn joined Everett Public Schools in 2009, coming over from the Port Angeles School District, he accepted a $170,000 base salary, less than what Everett advertised, which was in the range of $190,000-$210,000 in base pay.

Cohn’s base pay is still below that original advertised figure, and it only in recent years achieved parity with what his predecessor, Carol Whitehead, was paid, which was $183,000.

The raise in pay also comes after a year in which Cohn’s performance has been evaluated with a new system similar to that which is being applied to teachers and principals across the state.

Everett Public Schools piloted the state’s Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP) in the 2012-13 school year and started phasing it in last year, with 62 percent of the district’s teachers taking part in 2013-14.

Cohn has been working on implementing a new evaluation system for himself for several years, and this past school year he asked the district’s board of directors to use it to evaluate his performance. In coming years, he hopes to extend it to other non-teaching staff within the district.

The framework is similar in some respects to the TPEP system in that it identifies several broad standards of performance, divided into more targeted “themes” that address objectives.

Those themes are broad and range from high-level concepts (“Builds commitment to the vision and mission”) to general managerial goals (“Effectively manages fiscal resources”), with more specific achievements ranked according to a four-point scale by which each theme is evaluated: “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” and “distinguished.”

For example, Cohn received a “proficient” grade for the “Works to reduce achievement gaps” theme, which means Cohn has systematically used data to identify approaches and practices to reduce the gap in student performance, especially among minority and low-income students.

A “distinguished” rating, however, involves working with families and community groups to support instructional strategies to close that achievement gap, a task which Cohn said is now one of his top goals for the coming school year.

Board President Pam LeSesne said she prefers the way the new evaluation framework allows discussion of a wide range of criteria and puts the focus on growth rather than a simple satisfactory-or-not checklist. No one can be rated “distinguished” in every aspect of the job, she said.

In Cohn’s evaluation for the year, the board gave him six “distinguished” and four “proficient” ratings, although the overall process is intended to provide a more nuanced view of his performance and identify areas for improvement.

“‘Distinguished’ has a different approach,” LeSesne said. “It’s not just you, it’s building a culture” that allows everyone to improve and succeed.

Cohn reiterated the focus on continual improvement in his performance.

“This is not an evaluation system, it’s a growth system used for evaluative purposes,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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