Parlier board at odds over schools chief's raise

A deeply divided Parlier Unified School District board has given its superintendent a nearly 12% raise in salary and benefits in the midst of severe budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

The board approved a new contract for Superintendent Henry "Rick" Rodriguez that will increase his pay by $16,334, to $155,476. The board also voted 3-1 last month to extend his contract two more years through June 2013.

Two trustees opposed the raise, though one was absent for the vote. They said they and many teachers are disgusted with the raise.

"Right now, it's such a bad time," Trustee Mary Helen Villanueva said. "We're not thinking about the teachers and kids."

Parlier Unified is not the only district drawing attention for giving its top administrator a hefty raise. Madera Unified School District teachers and other employees were outraged when the district's board in December gave its superintendent new benefits that were the equivalent of a 9% raise.

Benjamin Tamez, president of the Parlier Unified board, said the raise was justifiable because Rodriguez has helped steer the district of 3,400 students away from "virtual bankruptcy" a few years ago.

When Rodriguez was hired as superintendent in 2006, the district was borrowing money from the Fresno County Office of Education just to stay afloat, Tamez said.

"You pay a person what they're worth," he said. "What's wrong with that when you have an administrator who has turned the district around?"

Rodriguez said that he, too, believes the raise was warranted. He noted that he runs the district's human resources and facilities departments.

"The majority of the board is giving me the message that they appreciate my work," Rodriguez said. "I think it's appropriate because of what I'm responsible for."

When Rodriguez was hired in 2006, he was given a base salary of $126,000. Over the years, he received cost-of-living increases along with teachers. In 2008, his contract was amended to include a $400-a-month car allowance.

His new contract, approved Jan. 5, raises his base salary to $147,776. It also gives him a $600-a-month car allowance and a $500-a-year stipend for having a master's degree.

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