Dear Decaturish – Superintendent never asked for housing stipend
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Editor’s note: The following letter was written by School Board Chair Annie Caiola in response to a controversy surrounding her remarks at a recent board meeting. Decaturish invited the board chair to write a letter in order clarify her remarks.
I spent much of Thursday afternoon reading an online discussion about whether or not Dr. Dude should be able to afford to live in Decatur. The discussion reflected a clear misunderstanding of facts that begs correction. The discussion also included some statements that were quite hurtful — statements which I do not believe reflect our Decatur community.
To be clear, Dr. Dude never asked the School Board for a housing stipend. Nor has the School Board come anywhere close to offering Dr. Dude increased compensation – stipend or otherwise. (Dr. Dude’s current contract includes a $1500/mo. allowance for civil and professional membership dues, automobile related expenses, and Decatur housing, if he chooses to live in Decatur.) Rather, on Tuesday night, the Board discussed the fact that Dr. Dude’s family was preparing to move outside Decatur because their lease expires this fall, and the Dude family has not been able to find other feasible living arrangements in the City of Decatur. This news was somewhat disappointing to hear simply because the Board has received so much positive feedback from the community about the Superintendent living in Decatur — and the level of approachability and accessibility that has come along with that.
As a result, the Board decided to consider allowing the Dude family to lease one of the residential properties that CSD recently acquired for the purpose of expanding existing schools. There was never any discussion about Dr. Dude renting a property for free. Rather, the Board and Dr. Dude were both clear that any potential lease arrangement would be short-term and would involve Dr. Dude paying market rent for the property. Leasing one of our properties to Dr. Dude’s family would: 1) give Dr. Dude’s family a place to live in Decatur when their lease expires this fall; 2) create rental income for CSD; and 3) reduce the costs associated with CSD having to maintain a vacant house until the time comes to develop the property for additional school space.
The discussion about leasing a property to Dr. Dude in the short-term, turned into to a broader discussion about how to provide long-term affordable workforce housing for a broader range of Decatur employees. I personally made the comment that in the years to come (and if housing prices continue to increase), we might consider housing subsidies, as one of many options, for the superintendent (and as a part of broader contract negotiations), and for other public employees. The City of Decatur is already working on some affordable workforce housing initiatives for City employees, and CSD may consider efforts to further those initiatives as well.
Once again, the School Board is not giving Dr. Dude anything beyond what is already in his contract. The discussion about subsidies was a small part of a larger discussion about long-term planning for affordable workforce housing. I deeply regret the negative comments I have read about whether Dr. Dude can or should be able to afford to live in Decatur. While Dr. Dude’s salary is a matter of public information, his family’s personal financial situation is not. Assumptions can be harmful.
Personally, I am pleased to have Dr. Dude and his family in our community and I am pleased that they want to stay here. While there are undoubtedly some challenges that the Superintendent faces by living in Decatur, there are some notable benefits to the community. I am grateful that Dr. Dude is willing to make that commitment to our community, despite the personal sacrifices and financial costs that come with it.
I appreciate everyone in our community for continuing to make Dr. Dude feel welcome, and I look forward to continuing discussions about how we can make Decatur more accessible for all.
* This op-ed is written by Annie Caiola personally and is not an official statement from the School Board.