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School board approves $16,000 salary increase for new AD

While some Albert Lea school board members objected to the price tag, a vote approved reaching into the district’s wallet for the full salary amount listed in the activities director contract approved at Monday night’s meeting.

Paul Durbahn

“I don’t think there’s any argument among board members that Mr. Durbahn has all the credentials that one would have in place to expect a pretty good performance in that role,” board treasurer Neal Skaar said.

School board members Dave Klatt and Jill Marin said their issue with the contract was not related to the activities director himself and both expressed expectations for Durbahn to serve the district well.

“Frankly, I just thought as a new position, I thought it was taking a large jump,” Klatt said.

The contract included a $99,000 salary for the activities director. Prior to the new hire, the former activities director made $83,000.

But according to Superintendent Mike Funk, the increased salary not only reflects Big Nine Conference averages for new hires but also an updated position. These updates included adding middle school activities under the director’s purview, adding a community outreach component and increasing contract days from 230 to 260. He said tabling the contract for approval at a future meeting would send the wrong message to Durbahn and the administration.

“We are a fiscally prudent school district and we pay good people the market rate, and that’s what we’re doing in this situation,” Funk said after the board meeting.

Skaar said he considered the addition of junior high activities to be a significant expansion of the position. He also mentioned the district and board emphasis on building programs the district “can be proud of,” citing it as an added responsibility and pressure on the activities director. Furthermore, Durbahn should be paid commensurate to his education, Skaar said. Durbahn has received a master’s degree in education.

For Marin, the salary was reflective of a trend toward increased salaries for administration in an effort to keep up with other districts.

“I believe that we need to be accountable to our constituents in providing excellent care for our students, but also being, being aware of the burden that it does put on our, our constituents as far as salaries, since the main part of our budget … is salaries,” Marin said.

But keeping up with the Joneses is what school districts have to do to be competitive and get the right people for its positions, said school board member Kim Nelson. She said comparing the previous salary of the activities director to the current contract with an updated position requiring more of the activities director was like comparing apples and oranges. Furthermore, she noted Durbahn’s performance as an “exemplary” teacher and coach in the district.

For Klatt, starting at a lower salary gave the district a better opportunity to provide raises as potential future rewards.

“I’m just saying, let’s give room for growth,” he said.

A motion to postpone a vote on the contract was defeated. Instead, the approved salary, a $16,000 jump from the previous full-time activities director salary, passed in a 5-2 vote. Skaar, school board chairman Ken Petersen and members Nelson, Angie Hanson and Dennis Dieser voting in favor of approving the contract and Marin and Klatt voting against it.

The activities director contract was removed from the consent items for discussion following a request from Klatt. Consent items do not receive discussion at school board meetings and are voted on for approval as one unit.

Marin said she also would have asked for the item to be removed for discussion, as she would like to consider similar contracts independently.

In other action:

• Funk told school board members that the district would receive $115,000 more in state aid, which will reduce the local levy by the same amount. Additionally, he reminded them of a 10% increase — from 40 to 50% — in the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit. This reduces taxes for landowners of eligible farmland.

• Sibley Elementary School third grade teacher Amber Yost said the Albert Lea Education Association will continue its literacy booth for the fifth year at Wind Down Wednesday. Children who stop at the booth will receive a free book and bottle of water. Teachers will be present and reading to small groups of children for the duration of the event, Yost said.

• The board approved the long term facilities management plan for fiscal year 2020.

• The board also approved the 2019-20 original budget. The only portion of the budget that did not balance was in the community service portion. Funk said Community Education Director Chris Chalmers was intentionally spending down a high fund balance.

• The school board approved authorizing Funk and incoming Executive Director of Finance and Operations Jennifer Walsh to act on behalf of the 403(b) plan. The plan was transferred from Aspire to AIG Federal Savings Bank. The same agreement had been in place previously, Funk said.

• The board approved a resolution that would move all extracurricular activity funds and expenditures under control of the school board. This move was to be compliant with a new law going into effect late in July.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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