As part of a special meeting Monday evening where the 2019-20 budget levy was formally approved, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education also set the salary range that will be used in the search for a replacement for retiring superintendent Kelli Jacobi.
The special meeting followed the Annual Meeting of the Electors where the budget was presented and the tax levy was approved. It also followed a meeting of the employee relations committee where the salary range was first discussed.
To help determine a salary range, the committee and the full board were given information on the salary and fringe benefits paid to superintendents from Great Northern Conference schools and from comparably-sized districts in the area for 2018-19. The information was provided by Bruce Miles, the consultant hired by the district to conduct the search.
Jacobi will retire at the end of the current school year, a move she announced earlier this year to allow the board time to do a comprehensive search for her replacement. According to what was put out at both the committee and board meeting Monday, Jacobi currently makes $136,774 annually in salary. However, school board president Ron Counter noted she has declined a couple of raises during her tenure.
"$150,000 is the going rate for superintendent salaries," Counter said during the committee meeting.
With committee member Ben Roskoskey absent, the other two members and Counter all made suggestions as to what they felt would be a fair salary range. Judy Conlin suggested $134,000 as the starting point while Duane Frey offered $140,000-$150,000. Counter's suggested range was $140,000-$160,000.
The committee eventually decided to forward a recommendation of $140,000-$155,000 for the full board to consider.
After the full board approved the $24,546,462 tax levy that will cover the local share of the district's $40,756,917 budget for the school year, it turned to the matter of the superintendent salary range.
Frey told the rest of the board that the committee has been meeting with Jacobi's administrative assistant, Jane Walkowski, and has been in phone contact with Miles working on the search. He then directed the board's attention to the salary information that Miles provided that the committee and then presented the range the committee had approved.
"And we open this up to discussion because this is a full board issue," Frey said.
David Holperin said he had two observations on the range that the committee recommended. He noted that the Three Lakes superintendent salary was listed as $172,000, and it was explained that this was for the outgoing superintendent. The same was true for the Northland Pines salary listed at $173,000.
"That would skew the numbers significantly to the upside for the district, for the area," Holperin said. "So I think that the $155,000 is probably too high, unless we get someone with an incredible amount of experience."
"I think it's going to be how experienced this person is, education, there's a lot of things to consider," Frey replied. "So tonight what we're asking is, is that range something the board can live with? If it isn't we're open to discussion on what the board could live with."
Mary Peterson pointed out that the board is able to negotiate with the finalist it selects.
"These numbers aren't set in stone," she said.
Frey said the board will eventually negotiate a contract with whomever is selected from the pool of applicants, but the salary range is what is going to get people to apply for the position in the first place.
"Once the range is listed, it's the dollars we should plan to stay within," Conlin noted.
It was noted that the fringe benefits package to be offered to the successful candidate would be decided later as what is important will vary from person to person. However, it was decided that the package would be similar to what other members of the administrative team receive.
"Benefits are part of the contract. We'll sit down as a board and go through the contract," Frey said. "Then the benefits would be spelled out as to vacation time and all the other things in it."
Holperin thought the low end of the range was too high, and suggested a range of $130,000-$150,000.
Ron Lueneburg, who sat in on the committee meeting earlier in the evening, but did not take part, noted that even if the board were to throw out the high and low salaries in the GNC $140,000 would be the logical place low end of the range.
"I personally agree with some of the points that Judy brought up that if we bring in someone who is completely brand new with no experience, starting them ahead of what Kelli is making now - even though you turned down some raises - nevertheless, I feel that $135,000 would be a good starting point, and I feel we would still be pretty competitive," Lueneburg said. "I'm open to the high end, but I think as a floor, I'd like to look at the $135,000 area."
Counter again noted that statewide, the median salary for superintendents is $150,000.
Mike Roberts noted that of the districts on the list provided by Miles, Antigo and Merrill have fairly new superintendents and the Three Lakes salary would come down since Terri Maney had recently left the Rhinelander district to accept that position.
"I worry about when we post, that if we have that range too low whether that would deter candidates," Frey said, adding that his personal opinion is that $135,000 is too low.
Holperin noted that the high end would be a factor that might keep quality candidates from applying.
Frey asked Jacobi if, based on her experience with the superintendent's association, the low range would deter applicants.
"The low end wouldn't be the problem, it would be the high," she replied.
Conlin suggested more than $130,000 for the low end because she said she doesn't want to see even a rookie superintendent be the lowest paid in the conference.
"If the (the low end of the) range is $140,000, then your starting point for negotiations is probably going to be $140,000, it's not going to be below that," Roberts noted. "But I wouldn't be opposed to pushing the higher end up because it is based on experience."
He noted Rhinelander may get an applicant with 10 years experience at a larger district, who is already making $160,000, who is looking to move north to take over a smaller district such as Rhinelander.
"We would have to make that decision at the time of hire," Roberts said. "But I think we should be open to it."
Holperin said he liked what Roberts was saying, but countered that someone from a small district making around $100,000 might see $125,000 or $130,000 "as a big jump."
Conlin said it was more likely that either a curriculum director or principal from a large district would be the kind of applicant Rhinelander will see.
They also would not be currently drawing a superintendent's salary, she noted.
Counter said that the reason Rhinelander hasn't seen a superintendent from one of the Milwaukee districts looking to move north to a smaller district is because in previous searches, the upper end of the range wasn't high enough.
Ann Munninghoff Eshelman suggested a range between $135,000-$170,000 to attract a broader range of candidates. Peterson quickly agreed that range would give the district the most flexibility.
Counter then made a motion to set the range at $135,000-$170,000, and Conlin seconded it.
Frey said the upper end of the range was too high.
"I think this is going to go into the paper and people are going to say 'you're going to pay a superintendent $170,000?'" he said.
Roberts said that setting the upper end at $170,000 is an attempt by the board to attract more experienced candidates, it doesn't mean the person selected will be paid that much.
Frey said that if someone with five years experience is the top candidate, and he/she sees the upper figure at $170,000, and the board only offers $150,000, they may walk way.
"Could we lose a good candidate because we don't feel they are worth that higher amount?" Conlin asked.
"That's a negotiation, but that's the risk you run," Holperin replied. "They risk losing a job and we risk losing our number one candidate."
When a roll call vote was taken, the final tally was 5-3 in favor of the range, with Conlin, Frey and Lueneburg casting the "nay" votes.
Jacobi also announced at the special meeting that, contrary to what was being reported on social media, she has not banned any further painting on "The Rock" behind the high school.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2019
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Our town here in VA has a population of 14,000. There are 2700 students from pre K through high school. They just gave the local superintendent a raise to $225,000.
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