Citing a study that concluded some Minneapolis school administrators were underpaid, district Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson approved more than $270,000 in pay raises this summer for 35 central office administrators.

Johnson's announcement Friday surprised some school board members who said they weren't aware that their approval of a consultants' compensation study in May meant raises for administrators. The raises came as the district cut at least 118 jobs, including 52 teachers, last month to help plug a $20 million deficit.

School district spokesman Stan Alleyne said the increases given to administrators, who are not represented by a union, are on par with raises given to other employees during contract bargaining. On average, the employees who received the raises take home $100,000 per year. The pay hikes, retroactive to July 2010, were paid out in lump sums.

"This was a quick process," Alleyne said. "There was nobody to negotiate with."

In an interview earlier this week, school board chair Jill Davis said her colleagues understood that their review of the compensation study would lead to administrator pay raises. But four other board members -- Jenny Arneson, Hussein Samatar, Lydia Lee and Richard Mammen -- reached Friday said they did not recall such a discussion.

"I have to see what [Johnson's] justification is," Lee said.

"Perhaps this is an item that should have been on our agenda," Samatar said. "We want to make sure we are spending the money correctly."

The raises followed a compensation study by Public Sector Personnel Consultants of Tempe, Ariz., that found that 75 percent of Minneapolis district employees are compensated above market. The same report indicated that 38 percent of senior management was found to be more than 5 percent below the average for people working similar jobs in other school districts. Those employees received checks this summer, Alleyne said.

The decision to pay out more than a quarter million dollars was "done out of fairness," Alleyne said.

After the Star Tribune inquired about the compensation study this week, Johnson sent out a public statement Friday announcing the salary hikes, which do not affect her own compensation. The executive-level administrators have seen a decrease in total compensation the past five years and have not seen a salary increase in three years, Johnson wrote.

"We are committed to putting in place an authentic, realistic classification system that accurately reflects what our employees do every day and ties directly back to the total compensation package we offer for that work," Johnson wrote.

The compensation study unearthed unequal pay across several unions and the district plans to address that in future contract negotiations.

Mammen defended the pay raises as essential for retaining top-notch staff.

"We want the best people possible for our kids," he said. "We want to reward them and pay them equitably."

But Mammen did not see the raises reflected in any budget presentation.

"What did we vote on?" he asked. "The compensation study and who gets pay raises are two separate things."

Negotiations on a new teacher contract begin this summer along with bargaining with several other unions.

"If we have people who are not being paid equitably, we should correct that," Arneson said. "I would not expect the superintendent to run by the board every pay raise that she makes."

Alleyne said the superintendent was on vacation Friday and could not be reached for an interview.

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491