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Melendez to Be Hired Under Unusual Salary Arrangement

Hillel Aron | August 19, 2013

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melendezThelma Melendez de Santa Ana will be hired as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s director of education and workforce development, pending confirmation by the LA Unified School Board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

“First and foremost, Mayor Garcetti wants to make LA students more career and college ready,” said Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb. “That will require care and attention from Pre-K all the way through to adult job retraining programs.”
As KPCC’s Adolf Guzman-Lopez first reported, Melendez’s $140,000 salary will be paid by LA Unified; the City of Los Angeles will then reimburse the district for the salary, plus another $10,000 in benefits, plus 3 percent. The unusual arrangement, alluded to in the board’s meeting materials, must first be approved by the School Board — which could make for an interesting discussion.

Why the salary switcheroo? Because it will allow Melendez to remain in CALSTRS, the state pension system for certificated employees, including teachers and superintendents.

That may have been a sticking point for Melendez considering that a $140,00-a-year job in Garcetti’s office is quite the pay cut for her — she was making $265,000 over at Santa Ana, plus benefits.

“It’s a cost neutral way to help attract her to this position,” said Robb.

Melendez, 55, should have a number of years in CALSTRS under her belt, including time served as a teacher in Montebello and the superintendent of both Pomona and Santa Ana Unified. Pension benefits are a factor of highest salary earned, years worked, and age upon retiring.

So that means Melendez will, technically, be a district employee “on loan” to the city — assuming the School Board approves the arrangement.

Garcetti is likely to face a certain amount of criticism for the appointment, not so much for the pension gambit, but for the fact that Melendez is considered a “school reformer,” having graduated from Eli Broad’s superintendent academy the same year as LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

Last week, education writer and noted school reform opponent Diane Ravitch linked to a blog post by Venice parent Karen Wolfe, who urged the new mayor to “resist appointing a staffer who will advance the so-called “reform agenda,” which tends to view schools as business franchises in need of a quick corporate turn-around.”

But Robb stressed that Melendez’s role in the Garcetti administration will focus on working to find common ground amid the often acrimonious education debates.

“We see her job as bringing everyone together to share best practices,” said Robb. “We want to see what’s working in traditional schools and charters and then share those tools as broadly as possible.”

Previous posts: The Buzz: Thelma Melendez Likely to Run Garcetti’s Education TeamGarcetti Makes First Education Appointment (updated)Update: Garcetti Might Change City Hall Education JobGarcetti’s Education Staffing Plans Unclear

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