Rist defends his salary as interim Central principal
By MICHAEL COUSINEAU And TED SIEFER New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER - Interim Central High School Principal John Rist said he will lose at least $15,000 in Social Security benefits this year by taking the principal post, so he factored that into his calculations of asking and receiving $95 an hour to fill in for the remainder of the school year.
"It's still a good deal," Rist said in an interview Saturday. "It's not as good as everybody thinks it is."
Rist, 64, also pays for his own family's health care benefits.
A few school board members last week questioned the salary that superintendent Debra Livingston agreed to pay Rist to fill in starting this month after Central Principal Ron Mailhot abruptly retired over what one school source has termed was a "management issue."
"It's nothing personal against Mr. Rist," Ward 3 school board member Chris Stewart said at a board meeting last week. "For me, the real concern is the money . This strikes me as extremely expensive, not factoring in what he's getting as a retired school employee in health and pension benefits."
Rist said Social Security limits how much people can earn and collect in benefits in the same year.
"Since February 2013, I've gotten one Social Security check," Rist said. "I've had one month of Social Security over the last 14 months, and I'll probably have to go an additional 10 months without Social Security."
Rist said he lost about $17,000 in Social Security benefits last year while filling in as interim principal at West High School, where he was paid $90 an hour. Rist said he will lose between $15,000 and $17,000 in 2014.
Rist said he collects a pension from his three decades working in Manchester schools.
The pension limits him to working 32 hours a week, he said.
In updating the search for a permanent Central High principal, Livingston said the district received more than 30 applications prior to last Friday's deadline. The search committee will narrow the field to three or four candidates by the end of March.
Candidates will meet with staff and community members in April with a final decision planned for May, Livingston said.
If Rist works his maximum 32 hours a week, he will gross $3,040 a week.
Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the school board, said he recalled seeing financial figures showing Mailhot was paid about $87 an hour in wages and benefits to oversee the school of 1,893 students.
Gatsas and Livingston said principals at the other public city high schools each make more than $100,000 a year, but they didn't have specific figures available Saturday.
Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry argued that Central had four assistant principals; at least one of them could step up as the interim leader.
Beaudry made an unsuccessful motion to move one of the assistant principals into the interim top job while using the savings, which he estimated to be about $43,000, to fund more teacher positions in the crowded middle schools.
Livingston defended her decision.
"In talking with John Rist, there were several things I felt were a match for Central," she said, citing a proven record at West and his upbeat attitude, among other things.
Yesterday, Livingston said she considered the assistant principals.
"I have to consider all of the possibilities and make the best decision I can, and in this case, what we also have to understand is there's not many people who are of the quality of Mr. Rist and second of all are available to step in to the interim job as quickly as Mr. Rist did," Livingston said.
Beaudry also opposed Rist receiving $90 an hour for his work at West after Principal MaryEllen McGorry was suspended a few weeks into the 2012-13 school year.
Livingston said the $90-an-hour figure, set by a previous superintendent, set a base for figuring out Rist's pay this time.
Rist said he asked for $5 more an hour this time because "the cost of living is going up."
He added, "That was the offer I made and they accepted it."
Gatsas declined to comment on why Mailhot and McGorry left the district. Livingston declined to talk about Mailhot's departure and said McGorry left prior to Livingston's arrival.
Gatsas, who was responsible for tapping Rist the last time around, insisted that Central needed a proven leader.
"At Central, it was a distressed situation," he said. "I don't know if you've been there recently, but there has been a different climate with teachers and students."
Rist and his wife, Kathy Sullivan, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman, hope to retire at the end of June and are awaiting their first grandchild, due in late April.