A new contract approved Tuesday by the Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees gives Superintendent Alex Apostle a raise of more than 10 percent, making his new salary of $155,000 the second-highest in the state.
Apostle also will get $1,000 monthly toward automobile reimbursement - up from $300 in 2009 - and $833 monthly for a tax-sheltered annuity toward retirement, also up from $300.
The school board negotiated the salary increase with Apostle in closed sessions last winter. The board extended Apostle's original three-year contract to June 30, 2013. The contract is reviewable every year.
"We knew we were going to take heat for this," said board trustee Nancy Pickhardt. "But all I can say is that from our point of view, this is the trend in education. It's performance-based pay and it starts at the top.
"He's turning this district around," she added, "and he's being rewarded for that."
Apostle's raise stands in contrast to that of union and non-union MCPS employees, who this year received a one-half of 1 percent raise in base salary.
Dave Severson, president of the Missoula Education Association, the main teachers union, said he was surprised to learn of Apostle's raise.
"For two years now, it's been ‘the budget, the budget, the budget, the economy' and we were made to feel pretty guilty for asking for more," he said.
Severson said Apostle is doing an excellent job as superintendent, but to teachers his raise "will look like the big CEO taking the big windfall while the employees get nothing. It looks hypocritical."
Teachers have an automatic built-in raise based on years of experience and advanced degrees, but they don't come close to 10 percent, he said.
The same school board that saw fit to give Apostle the raise is the same one, said Severson, that has "pressured" the unions to accept meager salary increases.
"I might cast a little more blame on the school board for pressuring us to pretty much take zero," he said.
But Pickhardt said the pay increase reflects Apostle's "tremendous number of hours" he puts in on the job, as well as his performance in student achievement and securing money from the district from such entities as the University of Montana and Washington Corp.
"All I can say is that Dr. Apostle has done amazing things since he's been here," she said. The board was unanimous in giving Apostle the pay raise.
The raise puts Apostle's salary above most other Montana districts of similar size. Kirk Miller, superintedent in Bozeman, earns $131,300; Bruce Messinger of Helena gets $119,355, but with $23,500 in annual annuities and a leased vehicle.
The state's top superintendent salary belongs to Keith Beeman in Billings, who has a two-year $160,000 contract.
Superintendents in or near Spokane make $177,000 on average, according to a state of Washington database. The superintendent of the Boise (Idaho) School District makes $171,000.
Apostle, who has been with MCPS since 2008, was originally hired and given a two-year $132,600 salary. That contract included $200 monthly for the annuity toward retirement.
In 2009, the contract was extended to three years, and included a pay raise to $140,400, $300 monthly toward the annuity and $300 monthly reimbursement for Apostle's use of his automobile.
The addendum passed Tuesday night renews the three-year contract with the attendant pay increase, the $833 monthly to the annuity and the $1,000 car reimbursement.
Pickhardt said Apostle "has gotten us into much better shape financially." His raise reflects a growing trend of rewarding school employees based on performance - an idea she wants to see applied to teachers as well.
Apostle said that while he is being rewarded for his performance, the pay increase "is more about my profession and my position."
"This is not about me," he said.