MARTINEZ — The Martinez school board promoted an administrator to assistant superintendent Monday over the objections of some employees who questioned the timing, given the district's budget problems.

Rick Rubino, director of personnel for more than four years, will lead the district when Superintendent Rami Muth is out of town.

In his new job, Rubino will earn $118,272 this school year — which amounts to a $219 pay cut.

"This district has had a long-standing tradition of having at least one assistant superintendent," he said. "I will be assuming more responsibilities and taking a cut in pay to do so."

Rubino had reached the top of the pay scale for the director of personnel position. With the promotion, he can earn as much as $7,470 more per year — topping out at an annual salary of $125,961 in five years.

With the district facing a potential budget shortfall of nearly $2 million this school year and the layoffs Monday of the district's only electrician and painter, school employee union President Richard Craig said his members balked at Rubino's promotion.

"With the state budget problems, education will take some cuts," Craig said. "I just feel it's the wrong time to be doing this."

Teachers' union President Tom Lessig did not return calls seeking a comment.


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Muth said the district needs someone empowered to handle emergencies in her absence. "There is a need to have that person designated," she said. "We see it as a safety issue."

But Craig believes that explanation is "a smoke screen" because elementary school principals in the district aren't backed up by a vice principal.

Muth acknowledged the promotion's timing is not ideal, but she denied that teachers and other district employees will bear the brunt of future budget cuts.

She pointed out that the assistant superintendent position is in the budget and has been unfilled since last year. Muth added that she and Liz Robbins, the new chief business official, make less than their predecessors and that the district cut administrative costs by temporarily freezing her former job, director of curriculum and instruction.

With the state budget deficit now projected to reach nearly $42 billion by June 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing K-12 funding statewide by an additional 4.5 percent this school year. This cut would come on top of the elimination of a reduced annual cost-of-living increase. For Martinez, the cut would reduce by more than $500 the amount the district gets per student, amounting to nearly $2 million for the school year.

The district is embroiled in contract negotiations with the Martinez Education Association and the school employees' group. Representatives from the teachers' union and the district met Monday with a state mediator to hammer out a deal on pay raises. A second meeting is scheduled for next month.

Reach her Lisa P. White at 925-943-8011 or lwhite@bayareanewsgroup.com.