Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published April 1, 2005

The New Superís Duper Salary


After a decade of getting by on the cheap and paying its school superintendent one of the lowest salaries imaginable for a ďCity of the First Class,Ē the Duluth School Board finally has to ante up more pay. Not surprisingly, letters-to-the-editor complaining about this extravagance are starting to crop up. $130,000 to pay a Superintendent? Whoa Nelly!


Even though the decision to hire the new Superintendent was unanimous three of seven Board members balked at the salary offer. While these Board members may look frugal the Board has little choice. Times have changed.


From about 1990 to 1995 (the five years before I served on the Board) Duluth had five superintendents. None was adequate to the task of getting along with the School Board and managing the Duluth Schools. The revolving door ended when the Board hired Mark Myles from ďwithinĒ the District. Mark, a local boy, had been a long time principal. I donít recall how much of a jump in pay Mark made, if any, over his predecessor but Iíd guess it wasnít much. Thatís because the jump from principal to superintendent was a significant pay increase and Mark was untested.


The musical chairs in the superintendentís office left the District with a statutory operating debt. (We were bankrupt) Mark cut the budget to the bone and brought sanity to our finances but at a significant cost to his popularity. Teachers might grudgingly concede that austerity was necessary but they didnít have to like it.


Shortly after this (and my election to the Board) Myles encouraged the Board to take advantage of the Stateís new Charter School law. When the Board settled on a ďfor profitĒ company, the Edison Schools, to manage a Duluth school it stirred up a hornetís nest. However, because Myles was still riding a wave of community popularity and because the teacherís themselves had given Edison the highest rating of five charter proposals the Teacherís Union had to tread softly. However, when Myles made some impolitic comments that teachers took as an insult the war began. Teachers were also aggrieved because of an unsettled contract and when the Union called for a vote of no confidence in the Superintendent the DFT claimed the vote was substantial although they never made the results public. Following this the Union succeeded in sweeping four new pro-teacher/anti-Myles school board members into office.


Since the teacherís had four new friends on the Board and were hell bent on a strike it seemed like a bad time to negotiate a large pay increase for Myles whoís contract was up for renewal. When the Boardís negotiating committee played hardball, even before the new board members were seated, Mark announced his imminent retirement. His salary remained modest. Cut to the next Superintendent.


Julio Almanza was in no position to negotiate a big salary when we offered him the reins because he was without a job. He accepted a modest salary and it has remained so for the past eight years. But the playing field has tipped against the School Board.


Until a few years ago state law capped the salaries of public employees. No one, other than the President of the University of Minnesota , was allowed to earn a salary larger than the Governor of Minnesota. Because this law was not popular with administrators they showed their displeasure by taking jobs in other stateís without salary caps. The brain drain threatened to saddle Minnesota with mediocre administrators so the law was junked. Not surprisingly, school superintendents pay has since soared. At least non-Duluth superintendentís pay has soared. Even our new Superintendent, Keith Dixon, was earning fifteen thousand dollars more than Julio Almanza and that was for a district about a third the size of Duluth ís in a much less ornery community.


One of my last acts as a School Board member was voting to accept Julioís offer to extend his contract for one year with a pay freeze. At the time I told my old buddy, Tim Grover, one of the Boardís stingiest members, that when the Board replaced Almanza it would have to dig deep.


For the grumblers its worth noting that the new salary is still only two and a half times what our most senior teachers earn. Of course, if the School Board wanted to be penny wise and avoid public criticism they could simply manage our one-hundred-million dollar school district themselves. Hey, the Teacherís Union President once said the only thing a Superintendent does is call snow days. That doesnít sound so hard.


April Fools!


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com