Wendy

The school board extended Supt. Wendy Sinnette's contract for four years. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / November 15, 2011)

After a first-year performance that surpassed expectations, La Cañada Unified School District Supt. Wendy Sinnette received a four-year contract extension on Tuesday.

Her base salary will remain among the lowest among comparable district superintendents in Los Angeles County.

The La Cañada Unified governing board voted 4-0 on Tuesday to extend Sinnette's contract to July 31, 2016. Her base salary will gradually increase from the current $160,000 to $185,000. Combined with annual merit pay, which could have reached $35,000 this year and can go as high as $30,000 a year during the remainder of the contract at the board's discretion, Sinnette's maximum annual compensation will top out at $215,000.

Board member Joel Peterson did not participate in the vote.

The board voted to give Sinnette $30,000 out of a possible $35,000 in merit pay for 2011-12, bringing her total compensation to $190,000.

“That was done as an emphatic vote of confidence in Wendy's first year as superintendent,” board President Scott Tracy said. “It's also a year that was marked by a lot of controversy and a lot of issues that arose in the community, any one of which could have been a distraction and impediment in achieving the goals, but she didn't let that happen.”

Sinnette is a former Palm Crest Elementary and La Cañada High School 7/8 principal who first joined the district in 2002. She was serving as an assistant superintendent for human resources when she was named to replace retiring Superintendent Jim Stratton in July 2011.

On Tuesday the board rejected a counterproposal by Sinnette that would have capped her total maximum annual salary at $195,000 for the next three years with an additional $5,000 during the last year. Sinnette's proposal also would have reduced her maximum merit pay, but would have included a potential carryover payment amount.

Prior to making its offer to Sinnette, the school board studied superintendent compensation at seven comparable school districts. Her base salary was at the bottom of the list.

San Marino's Loren Kleinrock, a longtime San Marino High School principal who was appointed superintendent of his district at the same time as Sinnette, is receiving a base salary of $192,000. Joel Shapiro, who last year was named South Pasadena Unified’s top paid administrator, receives a base salary of $205,000.

Board members credited Sinnette with achieving many of the 15 goals she laid out at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, including the launch of innovative district-wide site surveys and efforts to foster improvement in the school district’s communication and transparency. In Sinnette’s first year, the district also saw a 14-point improvement in its Academic Performance Index and a rise in STAR testing results.

“This district has made major strides to improve our educational program,” Tracy said before the vote. “I think we're really operating on all cylinders, on a total, correct and right trajectory, perhaps more so than any other time in my tenure, which is more than a decade.”