Minneapolis School District rethinks back pay

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2011 - 11:26 PM

Minneapolis paid $270,000 in retroactive raises to office administrators, departing staff.

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Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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At the behest of several Minneapolis school board members, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson is exploring how to take back more than a quarter-million dollars in retroactive raises she approved for 35 central office administrators.

Johnson's public announcement of the pay increases last Friday surprised some board members who said they weren't aware that when they approved a consultants' compensation study in May, it would mean raises for administrators.

The raises drew increased scrutiny Thursday after the Star Tribune discovered, through records requests, that four of the administrators retired or resigned within days of receiving their payouts, which totaled more than $48,000 for the four.

The employees who left the district -- two staff attorneys, the director of total compensation and an Office of Diversity associate -- received about 18 percent of the $270,215 in payouts. At least one of the employees retired and another has moved to another job.

The payouts to administrators came as the district slashed at least 118 jobs, including 52 teaching positions.

Superintendent Johnson said Thursday that she does not regret her decision on the raises. "It was the right thing to do," she said. "The timing of it was what I'm hearing concerns about."

She cited a study done for the district by Public Sector Personnel Consultants of Tempe, Ariz., which found that 38 percent of senior management received compensation more than 5 percent below the average for people working similar jobs in other districts.

"This was an overreaction [to the study]," school board treasurer Carla Bates said Thursday. "It's just not appropriate in this climate."

Among the four employees who left the district, the two attorneys, former general counsel Andrea Kaufman and assistant general counsel Cassandra Ward-Brown, had the largest payouts: $23,274.02 and $16,599.52, respectively.

More than a week before the payouts were made July 1, district spokesman Stan Alleyne told the Star Tribune that Kaufman and Ward-Brown were planning to leave.

Kaufman moved to a job as director of development for Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance.

The director of total compensation, Ava Nielsen, left with a $3,567.44 check, and Adebisi Wilson, an associate in the Office of Diversity, left with $4,874.97.

Kaufman, Ward-Brown, Nielsen and Wilson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

With their retroactive bonuses and post-July 1 salary hikes earned in the days before they left, the four received more than $54,000 in extra compensation.

'Damaged our credibility'

School board members approved the compensation study, for which the district paid $165,000, but not the raises that Johnson issued.

"There should be some consequences," school board vice chair Alberto Monserrate said Thursday.

"She made a mistake, but I am supportive of the superintendent."

Thirty-four administrators did not receive raises, Johnson said Thursday.

She said she has asked her legal counsel to explore what recourse the district has to recoup the retroactive raises.

"The board has asked me to reconsider my position," Johnson said. "I always take that seriously.

"It's clear that the communication between me and the board needs to improve."

On average, the 35 employees who got the pay bumps take home $100,000 per year. The retroactive raises were paid "out of fairness," Alleyne said last week, to administrators who had their compensation cut in recent years.

The report by Public Sector Personnel found that 75 percent of district employees are compensated above market and discovered salary inequities across several unions, a matter the district plans to address in future contract negotiations.

"The timing is wrong, the amounts are wrong," Monserrate said of the raises.

"We're going to be asking other employees to make sacrifices. We have damaged our credibility, both internally and externally."

Board chairwoman Jill Davis was apparently the only member aware of the retroactive pay raises before last week's announcement. "We support the superintendent's leadership; however, we did not agree with the decision," she said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune Thursday.

"Superintendent Johnson now has an opportunity to correct it."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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