Saturday, May 15, 2010

Superintendent Contract Negotiations

For those of you who are St. Cloud area residents, the work we are doing to complete a new contract with our former superintendent will be of local interest. For two or three folks who read this blog from elsewhere, perhaps what will be of interest is the process by which we seek to arrive at that contract. For some time now, our board of education has attempted to finalize superintendent contracts through a transparent process. Some time ago, the Minnesota State Auditor criticized school districts for failing to make all of the compensation components of a superintendent's contract transparent. We have done our best to take that advice to heart.

The cost of hiring a superintendent is driven by many factors. We are working with two realities. One reality is that there are folks who think that anything we pay a superintendent is too much. In fact, one of the reasons that many boards try to avoid discussing the cost of compensation is that they want to avoid criticism from that segment of the public who get angry at school boards when they hear the cost of compensation, even if the compensation is competitively driven.

The other driver of compensation is what other districts are paying. In our area, three new superintendents have just been hired. The base-pay for the superintendent at Sartell, which serves a student population about 1/3 of ours, and who has no prior superintendent experience, is just about the same as our current superintendent is making. When we are hiring and recruiting leaders, it is really hard to look them in the eye and say, look, you have to run a district three times the size of a neighboring district for less pay. And even if one could pull off that miracle, what happens next, our experience shows, is that if your superintendent is successful, he or she begins to get head hunted at the end of his contract by other school districts who offer far more. So we have to keep our own financial resources in mind, but we also have to look at what the competition is paying.

One of the things that has been driving superintendent up, frankly, is the Minnesota law that limits superintendent contracts to three years. I'm not against this law, at all. But formerly, a superintendent had tenure, just like teachers. When the new law went into place, superintendent candidates knew that their careers could be upset by by political or other winds, that caused a board to refuse to renew the contract in a very public way. The best candidates began to seek economic protection against that possibility, and that began to drive up the competitive cost of superintendencies.

This week, both the personnel committee and finance committees reviewed the progress of financial discussions with Bruce Watkins which would lead to a one year superintendent's contract beginning on July 1. Those discussions have occurred on an exploratory basis, because the Board authorized negotiations, but did not establish, or approve, the financial terms of a contract. The meetings were each publicly noticed and open. A reporter for the Times attended the finance committee meeting. The personnel committee recommended that the proposed financial terms be presented to the Board of Education at its televised public meeting, next Thursday. If the Board finds that the terms are acceptable, then we would authorize a letter of intent which would be signed by the District and Watkins. That would lead to the drafting of a final contract to be submitted for approval at the next board meeting.

As is our practice, the financial terms will be publicly costed. The basic outlines of the contract that the board will review, but which it has not yet approved, would be as follows. Watkins would step into the last year of Superintendent Jordahl's contract, but with modifications. He would not have the right to earn performance pay. He would not have the right to cash out unused sick or vacation pay. We would remove standard provisions of the superintendent's contracts used by most districts that provide for 90 days of disability pay if the superintendent becomes disabled while employed and we would remove provisions allowing emergency leave with pay. The net result of all of this would be considerable reductions in cost to the district as compared to the anticipated third year cost of Superintendent Jordahl's contract. The contract is not an "interim" contract, because it is for a fixed term with a starting and ending date and of course, we are hiring a person who has already served as our superintendent for a full contract term.

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