Pittsfield School Committee approves pay hikes for school leaders

Pittsfield schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and several other district administrators will see pay increases in a new six-year contract that was approved Wednesday by the School Committee.

PITTSFIELD — Pay raises will roll out soon for the top four leaders of the Pittsfield Public Schools.

The School Committee on Wednesday approved the salary hikes as part of a set of fresh six-year contracts for Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke, and Assistant Superintendent of Career and Technical Education Tammy Gage.

The contracts are retroactive to July 2019 and run through June 2025. After next year, each administrator will receive 2 percent increases each year through the end of the contracts.

McCandless currently earns $160,156 per year, but the new contract bumps his pay to $165,156. In July 2020, that will increase to $169,156.

Curtis earns $117,312 a year; that will increase to $122,406, and then to $127,500. Behnke's salary of $112,208 will jump to $118,604, and then to $125,000 in July.

For Gage, who handles the city's evolving vocational program at the newly built Taconic High School, the new contract increases her pay from $97,291 to $101,146 for this school year, and to $105,000 in July.

The School Committee understands the value in McCandless and his cabinet, committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said, and the salary increases reflect a desire to keep that team in place. Superintendent positions continue to open up in the Berkshires, she said, and it's important that the district not lose any of its leaders to districts that, historically, pay more than Pittsfield.

Searches are underway for superintendents in the Lenox and Lee school districts.

"We don't want them to go anywhere," Yon said. "We want to show them how much we value their service."

The city's schools chief sought to leave the district in recent months — and was a finalist for an Eastern Massachusetts position — but in October he signaled his intentions to stay in Pittsfield.

Yon said a look at recent superintendent salaries statewide put McCandless toward the bottom of the list, while his years of experience place him toward the top.

Yon noted that Curtis' predecessor made $125,000, and Behnke's slate of duties and her budgeting skills call for a salary to match. Plus, Yon said, she is aware of people who Behnke previously trained — and who have since left the district — who now make more than her.

Gage is newly in charge of "our jewel over there in west Pittsfield," Yon said, and "we see what she's already done."

"This is a very fine team that Dr. McCandless has put together," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.