The Lake Superior School District Board of Education approved its 2018 levy and a 10 percent raise for principals with a deficit budget during its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12, in Two Harbors.
The board set its 2018 levy at a 1.7 percent total increase or $80,855 increase. This includes a 5.24 percent increase on referendum market value, which is assessed on homesteads, and a 78.17 percent increase on net tax capacity, which is assessed to all parcels of property in the school district and takes into consideration the classification of the property such as homestead, commercial/industrial, agriculture and seasonal recreation, along with the taxable market value.
The school district is seeing a decrease in taconite funds, which have been steadily decreasing for several years. The district has budgeted to receive $639,563 for fiscal year 2018.
The board was also told Tuesday its 2018 budget is looking at a $437,743 deficit. It will have to make cuts or use its fund balance to make up the difference. At the end of the 2017 fiscal year, the district had a fund balance in its general of more than $3.89 million.
"That big of a deficit is obviously not sustainable," Superintendent Bill Crandall said.
Principals get 10 percent raise
Also at the meeting Tuesday, the board approved contracts for teachers as well as principals. The teachers were given a 2 percent increase each year for the next two years. The principals were given a 10 percent increase and no wage increase in the second year.
The principal contract was approved by a 5-2 vote, with board members Mark LeBlanc and Al Ringer voting no.
According to Crandall, principals were given a 10 percent increase so their wages more closely match comparably-sized schools in the area.
"We had over a dozen schools that we looked at. We looked at mostly Northern Minnesota schools as well as comparables throughout the state," Crandall told the News-Chronicle in an interview. "And when I say comparables, I mean schools that are similar sizes and demographic. The primary source was Carlton County and the Iron Range schools."
The principals' current salaries are $94,838 and assistant principals' salaries are $80,111. With the 10 percent increase, those salaries will increase to $104,321 and $88,122.
As a comparison to school districts in Carlton County, Cloquet School District pays its high school principals $111,133, its assistant principals $92,918 and its elementary principals $103,446. Carlton School District pays its high school principals $86,737 and its elementary principals $78,561.
"One of the pieces was based off the comparables throughout the area and we were on the low end and we wanted to put them in the middle. If you look at all of our groups we are in the middle, so we wanted to keep them at par with all the other groups," Crandall said. "The other part is if you have a candidate who is good and they have a couple of options out there, one of the big things they are going to look at the salary."
Ringer voted no on the raise because he said it didn't seem fair that all the other bargaining units were getting just a 2 percent increase.
"I just think a 10 percent increase is just way out of line. I think it's unfair to all the other bargaining units, especially the lower paid ones," Ringer said. "It's nothing against the principals. I think they are doing a fantastic job with the schools and the principals are to be commended, but everyone else is doing a great job, too, and they aren't getting 10 percent."
Board member Tom Burns disagreed with Ringer, saying principals' responsibilities aren't the same.
"If you have good people working for you you have to pay them to keep them," Burns said. "As far as the work, comparing principals to custodians, to bus drivers to food service workers, to me is like comparing apples to oranges. Everybody has value, but their work is completely different."
Board member Mark LeBlanc agreed with Ringer that the 10 percent increase was too much, especially when the board is facing a deficit. Board member Cyndi Ryder was torn on the issue.
"I was not here when there were workshops and discussion regarding this, but my understanding is that this is the max the board agreed to that Crystal (LeBlanc), John (Merrill) and Leo (Babeu) were given their marching orders, and they stuck to that," Ryder said. "So I guess I have a hard time saying no if that's where the parameters of the negotiations were directed to go. However, that being said, I have a hard time saying yes when we are looking at deficit spending and looking at cuts and all these things coming down the road."
Ryder voted yes on the contract, along with Merrill, Burns, Paul Borg and Crystal LeBlanc. Merrill and Crystal LeBlanc served on the negotiation committee.