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Manatee school official appointed after month-long hold

MANATEE -- As the school district’s new director of construction services, Jane Dreger will make less money than her predecessor, who is retiring.

Her old position as assistant director will be eliminated, and she’ll take on those duties in her new position. Total net savings per year for the district: $92,706.

Yet, Dreger’s promotion became the subject of controversy last month and was delayed until Monday, when school board members approved Dreger’s appointment by Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

“I’m amazed to have seen how much publicity this has generated,” said Dreger, who has been with the district for eight years. “I’m just one of 5,300 employees. It’s just crazy that someone would see this as news.”

Some school board members had homed in last month on Dreger’s salary. Karen Carpenter, Barbara Harvey and Julie Aranibar raised questions at the November board meeting about whether it was a good idea to give Dreger a raise at a time when teacher salaries were being cut by 2.75 percent.

At the time, board members didn’t dwell on the fact that Dreger’s proposed $93,224 salary would be less than the person she was replacing: Sheridan Dowling, who was making $96,992 a year. Neither did they focus on the fact that Dreger would be handling more duties than her predecessor. Or on the fact that the assistant director position she filled before would be eliminated, saving the district $85,320 annually.

Nevertheless, McGonegal revised his original recommendation for Dreger’s salary increase, from $93,224 to $89,606. The change was enough Monday to satisfy Carpenter and Aranibar, who voted to approve Dreger’s appointment. Harvey was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Aranibar said she never objected to Dreger receiving a raise commensurate with her new position. Rather, Aranibar was concerned with Dreger receiving both a new title with a raise and an elevation in “steps,” which are levels based on years of experience and qualifications that can further enhance district employees’ salaries.

“The new position came with an increase in salary,” she said. “But given a step more on top of that was not acceptable.”

Dreger said more cost savings are likely ahead in the construction services department, as additional people retire and are not replaced. She also said the month of controversy was uncomfortable, and that one of her greatest consolations has been continuing to lead the expansion of the Manatee Technical Institute.

It’s a project she has led from its inception, helping to reduce costs by 10 percent to 20 percent and adding 25,000 square feet to the $44 million project at no additional cost. Dreger will continue to manage the 210,000-square-foot project as construction services director, although project management is typically delegated to lower-level officials.

“I want to see it through to the end,” she said.

The new building will improve the district’s ability to prepare students for careers in welding, cosmetology and about 18 other vocations, she said.