When word began to leak out of bonuses being given last month to Minneapolis school officials, some employees wondered whether it was a reprise of the dispute over retroactive salary hikes given to top staff in 2011.
This time the rewards are much more limited. In contrast to the $270,000 in permanent retroactive raises doled to 35 top people after a 2011 compensation study, this year’s two awards are bonuses that don’t get added to base pay and total $17,000.
After the last episode, the board in mid-2012 granted Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson the sole discretion over whether to grant annual performance bonuses to top district personnel on at-will contracts. Moreover, it imposed no explicit requirement that she notify the board.
That’s why several board members contacted by the Star Tribune first learned of the bonuses from a reporter rather than the superintendent.
The bonuses to Chief Executive Officer Michael Goar for $10,000 and to district lobbyist Jim Grathwol for $7,000 were the only two given to a group of 55 in the district’s leadership. The two bonuses were given for different reasons.
The bonus to Goar, hired last June, was a mid-year performance bonus of $10,000. He is eligible to earn up to $20,000 for his first full year on the job, atop a salary of $175,000.
According to Goar and district spokesman Stan Alleyne, the base pay was a compromise when Goar was hired from the $185,000 a year job he had recently taken as the staff chief at Generation Next, which is trying to close the Twin Cities achievement gap. Goar said the district pursued him to fill its No. 2 position, and he was willing to take a pay cut if he had the chance to offset it with a performance-driven bonus.
Alleyne said a major part of that work is to develop a system in which the performance goals for district leadership, those not in union bargaining units, are tied to the goals that the school board has set for Johnson. She intends to institute a broader bonus system based on those goals for her leadership team in the coming year.
Goar said he’s also worked to flesh out Johnson’s SHIFT agenda for schools and to develop specific outcome targets for it. Johnson also gave him credit for overseeing the district’s new five-year enrollment plan.
Grathwol was given his bonus, Johnson said in an interview, because at $111,766 he was at the top of his pay range, and outside employers were asking if he wanted to work for them. “There are people who would love to have Jim Grathwol come to work for them,” she said, describing the district’s sole lobbyist since 1998 as a key employee.
Johnson said that her top administrators are hired at a specific spot on the pay range for their job duties, but don’t advance periodically up that scale. Those pay ranges were set by the 2011 study. She noted that several high-ranking employees have left in the past year, including Associate Superintendents Mark Bonine, now superintendent in Brooklyn Center, and Theresa Battle, who returned to the St. Paul district. Another associate, Stephen Flisk, is a finalist for superintendent in Winona. Making bonus money available for performance may help the district retain some leaders, she said.
The bonuses were awarded just as the board was making a leadership transition from Alberto Monserrate as chair to Richard Mammen. Monserrate said he wasn’t surprised by the bonuses, and has long known that Johnson wanted to implement a performance bonus system. New Chair Mammen, who was gone of vacation for part of January, said initially that he wasn’t aware of the bonuses but later added that he’s satisfied that Monserrate was apprised. Other board members also didn’t recall being told.
Regardless, Mammen said, “Transparency and trust is very important in any organization, and when people are rewarded for performance, I hope the superintendent would share it with us.”
The 2011 retroactive pay hikes weren’t announced until after a Star Tribune inquiry, surprising some on the board, and came after the district had laid off at least 118 employees. Johnson apologized for that timing. This year’s two bonuses come after months of contract bargaining with the union representing teachers.
(Photo above: Chief Executive Officer Michael Goar)
With its first strategic plan in 20 years already extended by two years and set to expire this year, the Minneapolis school board will hold a listening session Tuesday evening to gather public feedback on a new set of goals.
The session is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. in the cafeteria of Richard Green Central Park Community School, 3416 4th Av. S. Child care for children ages three and over, and translation into Spanish, Hmong and Somali will be provided.
The original five-year plan adopted in 2007 was to expire in 2012, but the board extended it to this year. It set the overarching goal of preparing every student for college by raising expectations and rigor, improving teaching and principals, and opening new schools and revamping those in the lowest quartile.
Under Superintendent Bernadeai Johnson, the district has instituted a teacher evaluation system, higher expectations for principals, and a more structured curriculum.
Yet barely half of the district's class of 2012 finished high school in four years, the new federal yardstick for that measurement.
The district set academic standards in 2007 as part of its first strategic plan in more than 20 years. But it eased them two years ago, after administrators said the earlier goals might make people throw up their hands and call them impossible. They called the revamped goals doable -- and said that districts similar to Minneapolis were achieving them.
Still, the most recent measurements released by the distric tin November showed it met only three of 22 academic targets, although it made progress in more areas than where it regressed. It hit its marks on percentage of students who have passed first-level algebra (84 percent), the percentage of students in carrer and technical education who take an advanced class (59 percent) and the share of entering High 5 prekindergarten graduates who have skills needed for kindergarten (82 percent).
The strategic plan the board plans to adopt later this year is intended to take the district through 2020.
The competition for DFL endorsement for Minneapolis school board seats to be filled in November has accelerated in the past few weeks in the wake of two last-minute pre-caucus dropouts by incumbents not seeking reelection.
Jay Larson, Nelson Inz, Luis Morales and Bridget Sullivan are seeking endorsement for the seat. Morales and Sullivan are the newest in the race. Both are lawyers. He works for the Metropolitan Council, and has the backing of Monserrate. It’s the most competitive so far of three district seats that will be filled for the next four years. Inz is a charter school teacher and Larson a cemetery manager.
Meanwhile, the field of candidates for two city-wide board seats has grown to at least five people, with incumbent Richard Mammen not running. They include incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, first-time candidates Iris Altamirano and Ira Jourdain, plus Doug Mann and Dick Velner, who have run previously without winning.. Another potential candidate, Andrew Minck, was close-mouthed when contacted by the Star Tribune. His online bio lists him as a finance and strategy fellow at Teach For America. The Star Tribune was unable to reach another potential candidate, Nicque Mabrey, who sought appointment last fall to the remainder of the term of the late Hussein Samatar, as did Jourdain..
There’s also still the possibility of an election contest for the local seat in District 3, which Samatar held. That district lies between 35W and the Mississippi River, between Cedar Riverside and a line generally following E. 36th St. Siad Ali announced his candidacy more than a month ago, and Abdulkadir D. Abdalla said he’ll announce at the end of March. Rochester charter school director Abdalla said he’s not seeking DFL endorsement, but Ali, who works on the staff of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said he is.
There’s been some talk that the number of city-wide candidates could prevent the city DFL convention from reaching one endorsement, much less two. Gagnon ran in 2010 as a little-known candidate relatively new to the city, long on shoe leather and short on money, but was able to win without endorsement. The only city-wide endorsee that year, Richard Mammen, isn’t running again.
A Minck candidacy would raise the possibility of another high-spending race, if the interests who style themselves reformers jump in financially as they did to help elect Josh Reimnitz in 2012. Reimnitz, a TFA alum, drew a record amount of money for a school race, especially considering that he was running in District 4 rather than the whole city. His opponent, Patty Wycoff, drew substantial union financial backing.
In the East Side’s District 1, incumbent Jenny Arneson is still without a challenger.
A collective effort has been launched to raise money and household items for the family of Troy Lewis, who lost five of his seven children in a fire last Friday.
The drive is seeking donations of clothing, household items and toiletries to help remaining members of the family. Those items may be brought to the office of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, 67 8th Av. NE, Minneapolis or the school district's Davis Center, 1250 Broadway Av. Checks may be made payable to the federation.
The union, district and Council Member Blong Yang announced the effort on Saturday. Two of the dead children attended Bethune Community School.
Minneapolis parents who may be wondering about the district's policy for serving food to students whose parents fall behind on school lunch seem to have little cause for concern despite the controversy about dumped food trays in other districts.
First, Minneapolis provides a school breakfast for every student who wants one, regardless of parent income. That includes more than 12,000 students who aren't eligible for subsidized lunches.
Second, Minneapolis not only provides a free lunch to the nearly 22,000 students whose family incomes are low enough, but it also doesn't charge another 1,713 who qualify for reduced-price lunch. They'd otherwise pay 40 cents a day, but the district decided in 2011 to cover that. The projected cost this year is about $208,000.
Moreover, all students get a standard meal, regardless of whether their family is behind on paying, according to Bertrand Weber, who heads district food programs. That means no dumping of trays for students whose parents owe money. St. Paul diverts students whose families owe at least $25 to a cheese sandwich and carton of milk, but only after several efforts to get the parents to pay or apply for free- or reduced-lunch status.
Minneapolis efforts were praised by Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "Minneapolis is the gold standard, They don’t turn away kids. They provide hot lunches,” she said this week, singling out Weber's efforts to improve nutrition, appeal to students and lunch participation.
The issue of getting lunches to students regardless of income is personal for Cassellius, who said she was eligible during most of her youth living in the Glendale housing project in Prospect Park. “A lot of my meals were provided by schools and provided by the local park board. I have a really emotional reaction to this," she said.
Weber has the evidence to show that his department is absorbing the cost of continuing unpaid meals. There's a nearly $130,000 deficit to date for meal costs incurred by students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch before their families actually filled out the necessary application. For full-price students, the deficit run up so far is more than $132,000.
(Above: Washburn students got to try out new, more-varied school lunches ahead of other schools in 2012. Left: Bertrand Weber)
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