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Middle School Directors Bury Wagner’s Annual Pay Increase 6.28.2006

By Al Campbell

COURT HOUSE – In an unusual step, taken at the request of an employe, Middle Township Board of Education publicly discussed the reasons he will get no raise next year.
In a twice-taken tally, the board voted 4-2 to deny a raise to Leon Wagner, supervising groundskeeper.
Voting yes to refuse Wagner’s increase were Andrew Melchiorrre, Mia DelCorio, George DeLollis, and Dennis Roberts.
Voting no and in favor of the raise were Andre Hodges and Daniel Money.
President Calvin Back and Matthew Buesing, Republican candidate for Middle Township Committee, abstained.
Wagner presently earns $60,788, and would have earned $63,768 had the $2,980 raise been approved.
All other personnel listed on the agenda under that personnel section will receive raises.
Wagner is a 16-year district employe. After the meeting, he told the Herald the reason for the action was because, “They want Memorial Field to look like a golf course.”
Superintendent Michael Kopakowski told the board a one-year history of Wagner’s work “documents poor job performance that reflects unsatisfactory performance.”
Board member Andre Hodges said he was from a “blue collar family,” and could not understand why Wagner was singled out not to receive a raise.
“It’s not clear as to why he is not getting any kind of raise at all. I don’t like to see someone not get a raise,” said Hodges.
Board Vice President Roberts said Hodges’ point was well taken.
“You’re taking food from someone’s table. This has to be done very carefully. I would never take a penny off anybody’s plate that would hurt their ability to feed and clothe their family,” said Roberts, who went on to deny the raise.
“I’m trying to put myself in the gentleman’s shoes.” said Hodges. “I would not want to tell my wife ‘I’m not getting a raise. He worked all year, and he’s got to work another year (to get a raise). I’m from a blue collar family, and have funny feelings about that.”
After the vote, during public comment, Wagner’s wife, Barbara, who is Kopakowski’s secretary, spoke. Wagner, sat next to her, and remained silent throughout the meeting.
“I’ve been here 36 years, and I have never seen anyone so harassed and picked on,” she said.
“He worked hard. I’ve seen Leon there Saturday and Sunday. For 16 years he’s been here,” she continued.
She termed the action a “personal vendetta.”
“I don’t agree with what you did tonight because of people that don’t like him. That isn’t good in a place of business,” she said. “But you’re going to do what you’re going to do.”
Another Wagner defender was Peggy Mathis, whose retired husband, Kirk, worked along with Wagner for many years.
“He was Mister Middle Township. He worked Saturday and Sunday with no overtime,” said Mathis.
Mathis said the Wagners “came in during construction and helped clean the high school to get it ready.”
When it’s time for evaluations, Mathis said, “It’s always the negatives, never the positives” that count.
Of the fields, she said, “the grass did come back. I feel these positives should also be reflected in the report.”
“I think Leon Wagner had a lot on his plate with limited staff…You spent almost $1 million on Memorial Field. It’s not his fault the netting is falling apart. It’s not his fault the turf dies. He’s only one guy,” said Mathis.
“As a board member, I think we have the greatest respect for our people. Again, this y ear, they have done a fine job at many many levels. We appreciate that,” said Melchiorre.
“I would like to say there are names that go back generations and generations,” said Hodges.
“There are names that travel, and everyone is aware of them. The lady (Barbara Wagner) has been here 36 years. Everybody knows who she is. I am saying there are these names that go back generations. You just can’t punch and beat up on people whose good names are out there,” Hodges said.
Applause followed.
Many left as the board went into closed session for contract negotiations.
The Wagners left via the back door.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or: al.c@cmcherald.com

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