HILLSBOROUGH -- Parents in this affluent Peninsula town packed a special school board meeting Tuesday morning to voice their concerns about the Hillsborough City School District's plan to spend up to $200,000 to hire an assistant superintendent.
The board voted unanimously in September to fill the position, which the district had eliminated before the 2008-09 school year as the economy began to nose-dive. But a growing backlash led the board to schedule two public meetings Tuesday to clear the air, one in the morning and a second that evening.
More than 50 people showed up for the morning session, overflowing the district's small board room on El Cerrito Avenue. Some supported the board's decision, while others thought the $170,000to $200,000 the district has earmarked for an assistant superintendent would be better spent in classrooms -- by bolstering computer and foreign language instruction, for instance.
The board told the audience now is the right time to fill the position, because the economy has improved and the district is faced with implementing new Common Core standards next year and fleshing out "HCSD Forward," its long-term strategy. Superintendent Anthony Ranii needs someone to help oversee daily operations, board members said, so he can spend more time focusing on the big picture.
The district has enough money both to hire an assistant superintendent, board member Greg Dannis said, and to spend more in the classroom. The K-8 district, home to 1,523 students, has begun restoring positions after several years of cuts. This year's operating budget is roughly $15 million.
"This is not a zero-sum game," said Dannis. "We're not looking at hiring an assistant superintendent at the expense of something else."
One parent who expressed skepticism about the board's plan said she felt "sticker shock" upon hearing the salary range -- Ranii himself makes just under $200,00 a year. Several warned that wealthy donors who help support Hillsborough's three elementary schools and one middle school may hold back if they perceive the district is spending unwisely.
Board members explained they want to attract top candidates, and the proposed salary for the position is competitive with that of other small districts in the area.
One of the top concerns among parents had to do with the district recently phasing out foreign language instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade in response to the recession. The district is now preparing a new world language and culture curriculum, but Ranii conceded after the meeting it will likely not be ready in time for the 2014-15 school year.
Some parents argued the district should spend the money to bring those classes back right away. Amy Shen criticized the notion of delaying the return of foreign language learning for the sake of further analysis.
"I feel the money should have gone to the kids," said Shen, adding, "We don't need another vision."
The board did not commit to reconsidering its decision, but Dannis and board President Lynne Esselstein both said they will give serious consideration to parents' input.
"I'm going to take everything into account," said Dannis.