After paying Superintendent Les Fujitake a $16,000 bonus last school year, Bloomington school board members have approved a new three-year contract without any provisions for performance pay for their top administrator.
While many metro school superintendents receive extra pay for completing annual goals, Bloomington board members nixed the bonus pay at Fujitake's suggestion, citing tighter budgets.
But Monday's decision, which gave Fujitake a third three-year contract with a flat $180,000 salary starting next July, also followed a broader debate among board members on whether they needed to first establish goals for the district for the next three years before renewing a new contract for the superintendent.
"I'm concerned that we haven't done our due diligence," board member Mark Hibbs said in an interview. "It's going to set the course for the district for the next three years."
Hibbs said the process of approving a new contract should have followed a discussion similar to one a year ago that mapped out detailed goals for the superintendent in exchange for $16,000 in performance pay. But other board members countered that those goals were too prescriptive.
"Some people want to be a more hands-on supervisory board ... I think we hire him and he hires people to do the job," board member Maureen Bartolotta said. "We're kind of at loggerheads on how we're managing the superintendent."
Board member Tim Culver countered that he just wants to ensure Fujitake is working with the board that hired him, and he said establishing goals would help improve communication.
"That's not managing a superintendent. That's accountability," said Culver, who unsuccessfully lobbied to set up a task force to set district goals for the district's top leader in 2012 before approving a contract.
Performance pay for superintendents is offered throughout metro school districts. In fact, on Tuesday, the Edina School Board renewed a contract for Edina Superintendent Ric Dressen that included $3,000 in annual incentive pay.
In Orono, Superintendent Karen Orcutt can receive up to 5 percent of her salary, or $9,300 a year, on top of her $186,000 salary for completing goals. In Chaska, Eastern Carver County Superintendent Jim Bauck receives a comparable amount in merit pay, getting 5 percent of his $189,500 salary for completing goals. And in Minnetonka, Superintendent Dennis Peterson can receive up to $30,000 or 15 percent of his $203,000 salary for bonus performance pay.
In a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools last year, 39 percent of the nation's largest urban school districts gave superintendents financial bonuses or performance pay -- up from a third of districts the year before -- with those payments ranging from $5,000 to $65,000.
Bumping the bonus
But in Bloomington, Fujitake said he didn't want the performance pay, citing tight economic times. It was nixed this year, the third of his existing contract.
Two years ago, he received a $164,000 salary at the start of his second three-year contract. Last year, the school board asked him to complete six goals, with bonuses of $4,000 for each quarter he met those expectations. That bumped up Fujitake's pay from a base salary of $176,000 to $192,000. This year, he'll receive only the base salary of $176,000.
The bonus was a school year-long "trial," Bartolotta said. "No one was really happy how that came out. Some of us felt that it was too prescriptive, too defined ... [and] wanted to go back to seeing the goals be more district-oriented."
Fujitake's 2010-11 goals included creating a compensation plan for top leaders, arranging succession plans for top leaders, expanding early childhood programs, setting a long-term facilities plan, improving communication between himself and the school board, and ensuring that students made satisfactory academic progress.
"Of course we have to hold him accountable," board member Arlene Bush said, "but I don't think it has to get down to specific goals."
Culver said he thinks the process is being rushed to complete it before the Nov. 8 elections, when four challengers will run along with Bartolotta for three open seats; incumbents Jim Sorum and Chuck Walters aren't seeking reelection.
"I hope the school board candidates are paying attention," he said.
On Monday, the board approved goals for this school year for Fujitake separate from his contract. His salary of $180,000 each year was also approved, without any bonuses.
"It sends the message that we're in some difficult times," said Walter, board chairman. "It's a real delicate subject, the superintendent's pay."
In fact, this isn't the first time Fujitake's paycheck has stirred debate.
Last fall, teachers opposed a 6.75 percent salary increase for Fujitake on the heels of a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers, which gave them an average pay hike of 3.72 percent. Teachers said then that it sent a contradictory message to staff.
School board members countered that the pay hike was needed to keep pace with metro superintendent compensation and belatedly pay Fujitake for earning a superintendent's license.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141