Central Bucks School Board hikes superintendent’s salary by nearly 40%

Lucabaugh is now one of the highest-paid superintendents in Pennsylvania. The three Democratic board members say they were unaware of the contract until it was on the agenda.

Abram Lucabaugh

Central Bucks schools Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh at a school board meeting in December, 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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The Central Bucks School Board has raised Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh’s salary by nearly 40%.

The Republican majority school board approved Lucabaugh’s new contract in a six to three vote Tuesday night. It bumps his salary from $229,500 to $315,000, making him the second-highest-paid superintendent in Pennsylvania after School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington.

In the 2022 school year, Watlington earned $340,000, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Central Bucks is the third largest district in the commonwealth, with 17,540 students.

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“I know that over the course of the last year, many have reached out to Dr. Lucabaugh and tried to recruit him,” said board president Dana Hunter. “I believe in his leadership, and I believe it’s in the best interest of this district to keep him.”

Before approving the salary hike, board officials accepted and terminated Lucabaugh’s current five-year contract. His contract would have been up for renewal in 2026. Before his promotion to superintendent in September 2021, Lucabaugh was an assistant superintendent, a high school principal, and an assistant middle school principal in the district.

The new contract is in effect until 2028 and allows the board to raise Lucabaugh’s salary by 2.5% after the first two years and by 3% for the last three years. The board also has the right “in its discretion, to increase the salary of the Superintendent at any time during the Term of this Agreement.”

The three Democratic board members, Karen Smith, Mariam Mahmud, and Tabitha Dell’Angelo say they were unaware of the raise until they saw it on the agenda Friday evening. Dell’Angelo said Hunter claimed there was majority board support to put the new contract on the agenda and that minority members were excluded in those conversations.

Republican Board member Sharon Collopy denied those allegations and said she saw the agenda at the same time as Smith. “Don’t tell me that we have secret meetings, ‘cause it’s not happening,” Collopy said. Board members Leigh Vlasblom and Jim Pepper, both Republicans, said they knew it was going to be on the agenda, but had not seen the contract beforehand.

“The most grievous part of this proposed contract, however … is the grotesque salary increase… when the district is struggling desperately to retain and attract employees at every level,” Smith said, calling the move “insulting to staff.” The district has 122 open support staff positions, according to its website.

Lucabaugh pointed to the list of employees currently being appointed by the district in Tuesday’s agenda. He rejected the narrative that the district is losing educators.

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Before and during the meeting, some district parents criticized the raise, calling it irresponsible and a misuse of resources. Democrat school board candidate and district parent Heather Reynolds said in a statement that the funds should be used to “ensure competitive wages for our teachers and support staff.”

Board member Tabitha Dell’Angelo said she was not against a raise, but against the amount of $85,500, considering that many employees are being paid below market level. Dell’Angelo said she also had difficulty accepting the contract after raising property taxes by 2.75% in the June board meeting to help with a $8 million budget deficit.

After months of negotiations, the district approved a 2.66% pay increase for teachers in June 2022. The district is also being sued by more than 300 current and former female teachers, alleging the district offered better starting pay for men. The Bucks County Courier Times reported the district may be facing $30 million in back pay.

Some board members who support the new contract, including Jim Pepper and Debra Cannon, praised Lucabaugh’s handling of former teacher Micheal London who was charged with corruption of a student after sending inappropriate text messages.

Tricia Doebler, of New Britain Township, also thanked Lucabaugh for protecting students against London. “We’re talking about all kids, tonight, that had the potential to be abused by a teacher,” Doebler said.

Lucabaugh drew parallels to London’s behavior with school libraries containing books with content about sex and sexuality.

He brought up the book “This is Gay,” which includes guidance on LGBTQ dating and relationships and advice on how to use dating apps and “sex-apps,” including Grindr. Central Bucks ordered its removal from libraries in May after the district said it violated its library materials policy that censors books deemed to include “sexualized content.” Lucabaugh has supported the policy and denies it’s a book ban, but says the district has a “responsibility to guard against the sexualization of children,” and protect them from graphic and age-inappropriate materials.

“Given that the most recent occurrence of employee misconduct involved the use of one of these sex-apps to contact students, I find it inconceivable that anybody would support the existence of this content in our libraries,” he said on Tuesday. “There is no reason for anyone to engage students in conversations about their sexual habits, their sexual preferences, or their sexual orientation. And if you think it’s acceptable, this is your notice, I’m going to come for you.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal complaint in October 2022, alleging the district has created a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ students. The United States Department of Education is currently investigating the district.

The district hired Duane Morris LLP to investigate the discrimination allegations and is expecting to amass at least $1 million in legal fees. Duane Morris has also represented WHYY.

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