Council approved 6.5 percent pay raise for Frank Edelblut along party lines

  • Frank Edelblut listens during a public hearing on his nomination to lead the state’s Education Department, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Concord. AP file

Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Executive Council narrowly voted to give the state education commissioner a raise Wednesday, in a 3-2 decision reflecting continuing political tensions surrounding his role.

Voting along party lines, councilors approved a 6.5 percent pay raise from $93,800 to $99,900 for Frank Edelblut, who assumed the position last spring. The council’s two Democrats – Andru Volinsky of Concord and Chris Pappas of Manchester – voted no, arguing Edelblut hasn’t earned it.

“I believe the commissioner remains unqualified for his position and does not deserve a raise,” said Volinsky, a strong critic of Edelblut at his confirmation hearing 12 months ago.

The vote was held without discussion or input from the Education Department. Salary increases are regularly made and are usually uncontested. And Edelblut does make less than many of his peers in state government. His predecessor at the Department of Education, for example, made $122,000 in 2016, according to a state database.

Pappas said his no vote was based on his personal performance assessment of Edelblut, whom he accused of politicizing his office and neglecting public schools.

“He’s been a political commissioner, and I don’t think he’s provided the advocacy and support for public education in the state in the way that the commissioner of the department should,” Pappas said.

Democrats have long objected to Edelblut’s focus on school choice initiatives and continued participation in Republican fundraising events.

He recently came under fire when a woman applying for a post at the Department of Education accused him, in a Monitor opinion piece, of telling her the job would include advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 193, a controversial piece of school choice legislation.

“That floored me. As far as I knew, the Department of Education was not supposed to lobby that way,” Karin Cevasco wrote at the time.

Edelblut denied that he politicized the interview and said school choice had only come up as something the department would have to deal with.

Other councilors dismissed Wednesday’s vote as a political stunt. Councilor Joseph Kenney, R-Union, said salary increases are routine motions undertaken for all commissioners. The only time they should be opposed, he argued, is if the behavior by the commissioner is egregious.

“From my standpoint, it’s just political rhetoric,” Kenney said. “They’ve opposed him from day one, so anything that comes up with his name on it, they’re opposed to it.”

(Lola Duffort and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report. Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)