During the same meeting it postponed a budget forecast and reallocation of conserved funds, members of the Sun Prairie School Board on April 13 voted to approve a new administration compensation plan.
The proposal brought sharp criticism from a longtime board watchdog, who cited the coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic havoc as reasons why the plan should not be approved at this time.
According to a report provided to the board and made available to the public, the administrator compensation framework resulted from collaborative work which began over two years ago between district administration, site administrators, and School Board members.
Specific areas of updated focus include: Creating a fiscally sustainable plan, maintaining an annual Cost of Living adjustment, creating a compensation structure that is competitive with surrounding Dane County school districts and school districts of similar size across the state of Wisconsin, creating a compensation structure that accounts for goal oriented outcomes (i.e. student outcomes, department specific indicators of success), creating a compensation structure that accounts for administrators who are actively involved in the Sun Prairie school community and/or professional community being an ambassador for the school district.
Another goal was to update the Increased Professional Qualifications (IPQs) language and definitions specifically focusing more on degrees and certifications than on individual graduate credits and also placing a career limit on accessing IPQs rather than an annual limit without a career limit.
The proposed administrator compensation framework and revised IPQ language was presented to administrators on Dec. 12, 2019. Following the initial presentation, the administrator compensation committee met to refine the framework and better define language to ensure a consistent application of the framework in future years.
According to the report to the board, the financial impact of the Administrator Compensation Framework is focused on the Cost of Living (as in the past) and will be dependent on administrators attaining the remaining components of the plan (evaluation, scorecard, and community engagement).
The initial cost of the refined IPQ language would be approximately $57,000 based on honoring the current level of graduate degrees in our administrator group. There will be subsequent annual costs based on administrators completing graduate level degrees; however, due to the career limit these costs will be sustainable and predictable. The plan was created to balance the goals of recruitment and retention with fiscal sustainability.
Although the report referenced working with a team for two years, Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder said the new compensation framework discussions began longer ago than that — in 2016.
“The other thing I would say about this compensation plan is it’s really really different,” Schroeder told the board.
Schroeder said the district has totally redone the compensation plan for teachers, administrative support and support staff to make changes, but has not touched administrators.
“Hopefully this will rectify some discrepancies,” Schroeder said, adding that the new plan will pay female administrators the same as their male counterparts.
Schroeder read public comments from Town of Sun Prairie resident and longtime school district watchdog Roger Fetterly.
“In these once-in-a-lifetime difficult and trying financial times when many of our residents are being laid off, experiencing reduced hours or salary cuts, and the national and local economy is in free-fall, the Sun Prairie School District Administrator Compensation Committee, made up of eight administrators and School Board members, Steve Schroeder and Tom Weber, is recommending salary and benefit increases for district administrators,” Fetterly wrote.
“These increases would enhance compensation for professional qualifications in addition to increases based on the cost-of-living-index and administrator’s active involvement in the community. These generous increases are troubling; particularly the recommendation that if administrators meet the criteria for community involvement, they would receive a $1,000 tax sheltered annuity (TSA) for community involvement,” Fetterly wrote.
“The Administrator Compensation Committee needs to be informed that quality of life in our community is enriched by members of our community service and veterans organizations who volunteer their time and money for the greater good and do not seek or expect any compensation,” Fetterly added.
Fetterly pointed out The Compensation Committee’s recommendation clashes with another item on the School Board meeting agenda which forecasts school district budget deficits every year for the next 5 years, reaching a negative $2.6 million in the fifth year.
“This is all the result of the School Board and administration’s failure to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers,” Fetterly wrote.
Board members disagreed with Fetterly’s assessment.
School Board Vice President Tom Weber said he thought that even though the plan was not agreed upon by all involved, that he believed it will help to drive economic recovery in the current times.
Weber also said the board’s decision making is not driven by finances, but instead by providing quality education to Sun Prairie children.
“I think the plan is a good plan,” remarked board member Caren Diedrich, who also disagreed with some of Fetterly’s statements.
Hoekstra said he believed the plan was a small step towards using the same model for other performance-based increases. Both Schroeder and Horton agreed with Weber’s comments.
Board Clerk Carol Sue Albright said she agreed with the plan, but opposed any type of merit-based pay.
The board approved the plan unanimously.
Later during the meeting, the board agreed to delay discussion of the budget planning timeline, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. But Phil Frei, Director of Business & Finance for the Sun Prairie Area School District, said there should be some savings in utilities, substitute teacher costs, busing and athletics.
Frei also said the district is tracking any coronavirus-related equipment purchases and plans to seek reimbursement for those if state or federal assistance becomes available for that purpose.
Some inputs used in the budget planning forecast for the 2020-21 school year included:
• Starting an employee health clinic on July 1, 2020 ($338,000).
• Continued budget planning to open Sun Prairie West High School ($333,333):
• Anticipating staffing needs and associated other costs.
• Salary and benefits for new staff based on the projected enrollment increases for the next five years (3.0 FTE in Special Education or $240,000).
The board also voted to delay any conserved 2019-20 funds to be allocated, 75% to Fund 10 and 25% to Fund 46. As of June 30, 2019, Fund 46 balance was $3,718,195.
According to a report to the board from Frei, the SPASD’s general fund balance (Fund 10) is among the lowest percent of comparable districts. The fund balance as of June 30, 2019 was $15,506,056, or about 14.5% of the general fund. Frei said that while this has been routinely done in mid-April in past years, it could wait until June. The board voted to table the item until a June board meeting.