BKW phasing out biz manager to raise superintendent salary

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

Berne-Knox-Westerlo superintendent Timothy Mundell shows off the district mascot, Bernie the Bulldog, during a tour of the school in the middle of its multi-million dollar capital project.

HILLTOWNS — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District has cut away the role of school-business manager, a post that’s seen rapid turnover and is currently filled by an interim appointee, Terrence Blanchfield. Instead, the responsibilities will be carried jointly by the school’s superintendent, Timothy Mundell, and a journey-level accountant who has yet to be hired.

“At the start of the fiscal year, I took on responsibility for supervision of the non-instructional departments … in addition to my existing duties,” Mundell told The Enterprise. “The role of business official has been adjusted accordingly and now is focused on budget, finance, accounting, and reporting duties only.” 

Board of Education President Nathan Elble told The Enterprise in an email that the position of business manager was removed from its organizational chart in 2019 at the board’s July 22 meeting. 

“Mr. Blanchfield’s contract with us as Interim Business Official ends on June 30 of this year,” Elble wrote, “so I would expect that Dr. Mundell and the Board to have a conversation about the position in the next month or so.”

Mundell said this week that the school board worked with Albany County Civil Service to develop a new job title for the business manager position and landed on Accountant II. 

Mundell said that, before Blanchfield was hired, BKW had paid the business manager about $100,000 in salary and benefits. The new job, for the accountant, will have an anticipated salary of $62,000 to $68,000 — depending on experience — and benefits. Blanchfield’s contract stipulates $400 per day for a total of 180 days, which comes to $72,000; he receives no benefits from BKW.

“So there was a change in my compensation for the added responsibility,” Mundell said, adding that the compensation is based on what’s saved through the restructuring.

That higher, “budget neutral” compensation serves a dual purpose of helping to attract a high-quality superintendent after Mundell retires. 

“The board is thinking long-term,” Mundell said. “I’m no spring chicken. My horizon’s three or four years before I retire. At that time, they’ll be able to fall back on a salary that attracts a higher-quality candidate.”

Mundell’s latest contract, which spans from 2018 until 2023, provides a salary of roughly $140,000 annually with room for a conditional 1-percent increase each year following performance reviews by the school board; benefits are additional.

Generally, superintendents are paid relative to the size of the districts they run. BKW has 751 students this year and Mundell’s salary is $143,222 with an additional $21,172 in benefits. According to information from the State Education Department for this school year, Duanesburg, in Schenectady County, has 674 students and its superintendent earns $140,980, plus $39,268 in benefits, and another unspecified $2,184.

In Schoharie County, Middleburgh has 707 students and its superintendent is paid $150,000 plus $44,650 in benefits and another unspecified $4,000. Odessa-Montour has 797 students and its superintendent makes $117,875 with $40,898 in benefits plus an unspecified $7,200. Schoharie has 940 students and its superintendent makes $152,000 with $45,077 in benefits plus an unspecified $4,200.

“Candidates for [the superintendent’s] job — the pool is not deep,” Mundell said. “If you’re offering $100,000 for this role, you’re going to get somebody with no experience and you’re going to have this staff that’s highly skilled with a great facility.”

Mundell was referring to the ongoing $15.8 million capital project that is equipping classrooms with new technology and high-quality furniture, along with architectural changes that are intended to stimulate student and teacher morale. He told The Enterprise last week that he hopes the renovation of the school will help buffer an ongoing population decline in the Hilltowns. 

“The community depends on the school for its livelihood,” Mundell said at the time. “But the only way that’s going to be sustainable is for us to have students who go out to make it and then come back.”

Key to that, Mundell said, is “next-level” programming to be headed or maintained by the next superintendent, and at a salary of $150,000 to $160,000, that superintendent will be a “different kind of delta.”

The district’s board of education has, in the last decade, struggled to secure long-term superintendents, as well as long-term business managers.

When Mundell was hired in 2015, he was the third superintendent in three years, succeeding two interim appointments. In 2018, the board voted to extend his four-year contract by one year. In the business-manager position, the two appointees preceding Blanchfield served for just two years each

“The board is thinking about that kind of succession,” Mundell said, “and I commend them for that. A lot of times they get stuck in the day-to-day. That’s a significant change for the board to be thinking three, four, five years down the line. That hasn’t been a pattern in the past.”

More Hilltowns News

  • Some of the towns with land on the Helderberg escarpment where large wind turbines were proposed in 2008 drafted laws on wind energy; others haven’t.

  • The Helderberg Ambulance Squad has enlisted volunteers and is asking for more to help sew gowns to be worn by squad members as they work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The gowns will be waterproof and washable, meaning they can be reused. “ ... We didn’t ever wear gowns that often so we didn’t have enough [when the virus hit],” Mildred Zuk, an emergency medical technician, told The Enterprise. 

  • Peter Hotaling, Westerlo’s former assessor, withdrew the Article 78 proceding he had filed against the town after it unceremoniously allowed other candidates to apply for the position. Hotaling had been in the position for 19 years, and now works as Rensselaerville’s sole assessor.

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