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)