Chesterton Tribune



Superintendent salary benefits draw comments from public

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Correction: An article in Tuesday’s Chesterton Tribune incorrectly reported that School Board President Ralph Ayres stated that the minor change in the contract extending Duneland Superintendent of Schools David Pruis’ term to June 30, 2018, was that the superintendent may forward up to 10 unused vacation days to the following year.

What Ayres actually stated was that any unused vacation days remaining at the time the superintendent’s employment ends can be paid into the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) account at a per diem rate.

At one point in the article, Ayres is attributed as saying there is no change in the contract. It should be clarified that Ayres said there is no change in the contract in terms of compensation. Along with the language regarding a VEBA account, the date on the term of the contract has been changed to ending on June 30, 2018.

The Tribune regrets the error.

A modified version of the original story follows:



The Duneland School Board is considering extension of Superintendent of Schools David Pruis’ contract to June 30, 2018, and will take a vote at its meeting on Aug. 10.

Monday, however, the board held a public hearing for citizens to share their input, in accordance with state law.

A regular at board meetings, resident Richard Whitlow said he does not agree that the superintendent should be given $9,000 per year, or $750 each month as the contract states, as a vehicle allowance by the school corporation.

“If you work in Chicago, you pay to get there,” he said.

While not explicitly asking the board to make changes, Whitlow said an article appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana last fall that indicated Duneland’s superintendent base salary was the highest in Porter County and one of the top three in Northwest Indiana at $145,000.

School Board President Ralph Ayres said before the hearing that there are no salary or benefit increases proposed in the next contract.

The board had voted on Pruis’ current salary in April 2013 for his first contract of $145,000, which was a $16,000 increase over Pruis’ predecessor. Board members at the time argued that the superintendent had been paid lower than the state average salary of $155,186.

Monday’s hearing saw one more speaker, Liberty Township resident Alice Estill, who asked for information regarding the contract’s paragraph addressing the superintendent’s retirement fund. For all unused vacation or sick leave days, the school corporation shall pay at a rate of .002 of the annual salary into the superintendent’s 401(a) or VEBA account.

A copy of the contract had been posted on the Duneland Schools’ home page. A legal advertisement for the public in the July 2 edition of the Chesterton Tribune contained the contract which can also be found on the legal notices page on the Tribune’s website.

Ayres thanked both Whitlow and Estill for their comments.

Health insurance

Next the board took up discussion of Duneland’s employee health insurance beginning with patron participation.

Whitlow took the opportunity to push his recommendation for school administrators to speak with representatives from Apex Benefits Group whose approach is to lower insurance costs by negotiating rates downward with health care providers.

Whitlow said he hopes Apex could negotiate rates with Porter Health Care Systems where many Duneland employees go for treatments. Porter Health’s parent company, Community Health Systems, was named in a recent national article as owner of half the top 50 most expensive hospitals in the nation.

Porter Regional Hospital is not on that list but information Whitlow provided from Apex states its claims mark-ups are more than five times the rates paid by Medicare, while the average mark-up for U.S. hospitals is 340 percent.

“I hope we finally look at fighting the rising costs of health care,” Whitlow told the board. He said that Apex could help save the school corporation about $1.5 million on health insurance based on last year’s costs of $9 million.

Pruis said Duneland’s benefits consultant, RE Sutton and Associates, has said the school corporation has experienced a lower number of claims than at this point last year which means it’s likely costs will not rise as much. Like many organizations in both the private and public industry, every employer is feeling the pinch to keep their health costs to a minimum, Pruis said, and Duneland’s benefits committee is researching all available options.

“We’re going to look at what’s out there,” Pruis said.

Pruis said Duneland has seen “double digit increases” on its plan every few years since 2002, most recently in 2012. Part of the influx of claims has been due to Duneland’s staff shifting to younger employees who are starting families.

Board member John Marshall said that even as claims are on the decline, it’s likely it won’t be long until they begin to rise again. “It’s a roller coaster. It’s a cycle,” he said.

Summer projects

In other business, the board approved two change orders to the current Duneland facility projects on which Duneland Support Services Director Greg Lindy and staff are racing the clock to get done before school starts again.

The change orders are because of “unforeseen projects” that have come up, Lindy said, and pertain to asphalt/concrete surfacing at Chesterton High School, the Middle School, and a few of the elementary schools.

The asphalt project at Jackson Elementary will have to wait, he said, but all other projects are expected to be on schedule.

The board gave unanimous approval for Lindy to purchase a $304,000 building controls system for Chesterton High School that is within the cost anticipated from the facilities bond. The system is “vendor specific,” Lindy said, and since all the equipment is from Johnson Controls, the project meets the state’s requirements for the project to forgo the need to seek bids.

“It has to mirror up with what we already have in place,” Lindy said. The building control system operates the heating and lights inside the building.

Bond savings

In comments to the board, Pruis said that the bonds for the facility projects will close in the early part of August and the savings through the Indiana Bond Bank is currently projected at $274,701, but could increase by the closing. That’s about $100,000 over what had been projected months ago but it will still help out the schools tax rate for bonds.

Pruis gave congratulations to the CHS Speech and Debate teams for their performances at the national tournament this past month in Dallas. The team won a school of honor award, ranked among the top 21-40 schools, and had three entries make it to elimination rounds, Pruis said.

In board comments, Ayres said he was “very impressed” with the presentation by LiveWorkLearnPlay on the future vision for Burns Harbor last Thursday, which over 100 people attended. He said he was glad to see the plans carried an emphasis on education.

Online registration

Also, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Jim Goetz reminded parents that they can register their children for school through the online portal starting July 20. New students however will need to be registered at their school building during the registration times in August.

Personnel Report

The board approved new hires and resignations for the upcoming school year.

CHS will welcome a new Spanish teacher, Steven Lombardo, who taught previously at Portage High School.

Carrie Sorrells has been appointed as the media secretary of Westchester Intermediate, Linda Strange as head custodian at Yost Elementary, Michelle Hansford as lunch/recess aide for Jackson Elementary. Duneland custodian Felicia Bachman will be moved to full time.

Resigning are CHS English teacher Diana Gill, Yost 4th Grade teacher Amanda Whitman, WIS instructional aide Jennifer Scott, CMS instructional aide Stacy Boyd, CHS custodian Antonia Baron, CHS technology coordinator Mary Hill, CMS Football coach Sam Marshall, Brummitt Elementary secretary Sheila Young and Bailly Elementary Title 1 aide Emily Alllmon.

Assistant Superintendent Monte Moffett announced to the board that the accumulated years served by teachers retiring in the 2014-15 school year reached a total of 250.5 years.


Posted 7/14/2015

Revised 7/15 2015




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