News Story

One Brighton Area Schools Administrator in Line for $58,000 Increase in Pay

Top administrator takes on third job title

Editor's note: The comments from Maria Gistinger were added after publication.

A top Brighton Area Schools administrator is slated to get a $58,000 annual raise in addition to a $121,931 base salary and a professorial position at a college, drawing criticism from two school board members.

The Brighton Area Schools Board of Education will vote Monday on whether Maria Gistinger, assistant superintendent of finance for the district, will get the raise for also serving as director of community education. The new contract would last two years and require Gistinger to work 260 days a year.

In addition to her Brighton administrative duties, Gistinger also serves as a full-time professor of accounting at Walsh College.

Gistinger earned $124,131 in 2014-15, according to a state database of school employees' salaries. The contract calls for a $121,931 base salary and a $58,069 salary for the community education position.

In an email, Gistinger claimed she would be taking a pay cut.

"My proposed pay reduction from 15-16 to 16-17 is something like a 3.7% reduction which is $7,000," Gistinger said in an email. "Our compensation was tied in 15-16 to a program that I cultivated that generated $11M in revenue and assisted the district in returning it to financial stability.  In 16-17, our school board asked that compensation not be linked to this program so we quantified the amount of compensation in hard numbers which resulted in the reduction."  

Bill Trombley, a trustee on Brighton’s school board, questioned why taxpayers should have to fund Gistinger’s retirement on an additional $58,000 when they’re already paying for the retirement on her initial salary.

Gistinger has worked as director of community education for three years without being compensated. Trombley said the salary is just now being added to her contract for retirement purposes and estimates it will give her an extra $3,000 a month for retirement. This is being done because the state retirement office won't recognize her $180,000 salary unless "additional duties" are included, he said.

“We have to pay her retirement on $123,000,” he said. “I do not know why the Brighton taxpayers have to pay additional money for her retirement on the $180,000 when we could spend the money on our kids instead of her retirement.”

Trombley also claimed new language in Gistinger’s contract changed from last year. Since Michigan’s Office of Retirement Services doesn’t allow for more than a five percent annual raise, Trombley said adding her as director of community education allows for the district to give her the raise.

“This year what the executive committee has done — which is the president, the vice president and the treasurer — has put this in writing and offered her this position because the ORS (Office of Retirement Services) will only allow you to gain a five percent increase per year for retirement. The reason why they wrote the language this way as the extra duties for additional work is so she can be paid.”

“Her retirement will now be based on $180,000 compared to $123,000 because it’s written as additional duties as this other position, the director of community ed,” he explained.

The district also recently hired a director of accounting, whose salary is $85,000, Trombley said. Three other employees, in addition to the director, work under Gistinger. The average teacher salary in Brighton was $62,183 in 2014-15, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

“We had to hire a director of accounting, who’s a union position on the books that costs us now $85,000 a year. We have an assistant superintendent of finance making $180,000 a year and we had to pay $85,000 a year for a director of accounting,” Trombley said. “What part of her job isn’t she doing?”

In July 2015, Gistinger and Brighton Superintendent Greg Gray recommended that Gray’s wife, Chris Gray, be hired as a part-time accountant to work under Gistinger. The school board rejected the recommendation, citing nepotism concerns, the Livingston Daily reported.

John Conely, who also sits on Brighton’s school board as a trustee, echoed Trombley’s disapproval of Gistinger’s raise.

“As a trustee, a community resident my entire life, and a Brighton High School graduate and everything else, it’s the sucking sound of taking away the resources that the taxpayers meant to have there for the students and it’s going in the pockets of the administrators and the teachers, bottom line,” he said.

Brighton Area Schools was in deficit from 2009-10 through 2014-15. It emerged out of debt in June of 2015 after seven consecutive years in red ink.

Conely said that thanks to Brighton’s shared services program the district is no longer in the red, but without the program, it would be running a deficit.

“The trend right now, in the absence of shared services, the district is in the red,” he said. “The budget as it’s coming to us, including shared services, is in the black. But it’s far less in the amount than what we anticipated building.”

The shared services program, which Brighton Area Schools adopted in 2012, allows the district to hire teachers to work outside the district in private schools and teach non-core service classes. The program raked in $8 million dollars in 2013-14 and brought the district out of deficit and into surplus, Michigan Capitol Confidential reported at the time.

“At this time we’re OK, we’re just not growing the fund equity the way we should because it’s being diluted and going into payroll,” Conely said.

Brighton brought in just under $80 million in total revenue — or $11,637 per pupil — for 2014-15. The district has $76,770,161 in pension liabilities as of June 30, 2015.

“Taxpayers have every reason to be outraged by this scheme, which will only make it harder to convince them to fund the district’s next project or program,” said Ben DeGrow, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“This kind of behavior takes for granted the students who come through the door, as well as the citizens and businesses who pay the district’s bills. It’s another clear reminder that the education system needs different incentives, not extra dollars, to improve results,” he added.

“I have two kids in the district, I live in Brighton, and I pay taxes there,” Trombley added. “I don’t know why we’re being asked to fund her retirement program.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.