Minneapolis School Board to put reins on raises

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL
  • Star Tribune
  • August 9, 2011 - 8:56 PM

Minneapolis school board members will sharpen their scrutiny of employee pay in response to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's decision to dole out more than a quarter million dollars in retroactive raises without their approval.

Last month's raises, however, are likely gone for good.

During Tuesday's school board meeting, director Richard Mammen presented a draft of the new policy, which would require the superintendent to report all salary adjustments for all employees, union and non-union, to the school board before they become effective.

The proposal is unlikely to come before the full board for approval until fall, officials said.

"This may be an attempt to block the barn after the horses escaped, but we want to make sure that no more horses get out," Mammen acknowledged. "We know there's problems here. We know we can do better."

In the moments before Mammen's statement, Johnson offered an explanation of her decision to give 35 central office administrators $270,000 in raises retroactive to July 1, 2010, without telling the board.

At the same time she granted the pay increases, the district had cut at least 118 jobs, including 52 teaching positions, to plug a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

Late last month, Johnson cited a $165,000 compensation study conducted by Public Sector Personnel Consultants of Tempe, Ariz., as her justification for awarding the raises while intimating that she did not regret the decision, only the timing.

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

"I acknowledge that it was not the best decision to implement the study in this tough economic environment," Johnson said Tuesday. "I was not as sensitive as I needed to be to the realities that many in our communities are facing."

The study found that 75 percent of Minneapolis district employees are compensated at above-market rates. 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.

"The decision was well-intended ... but I believe the decision was wrong," board vice chair Alberto Monserrate said.

Johnson pledged to explore ways to take back the retroactive raises, including nearly $50,000 in parting gifts paid to four administrators who had already announced plans to leave the district.

Board chair Jill Davis doubts the district will recoup the raises.

"I don't think, legally, we can get back the retroactive raises," she said.

If that is the case, the superintendent will consider at least two options, Davis said: returning the salaries of the employees to what they were before the raises or instituting pay freezes for several years to come.

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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