School Board prepares for contract extension talks

by Jim Boyle


Members of the Elk River Area School Board will soon begin negotiations  with Superintendent Mark Bezek on a contract extension.

But first they want to get their ducks in a row to avoid the confusion created this past summer when a proposed amendment to his current contract was deemed illegal.

Some members of the School Board also want to consider performance-based incentives tied to goals of the school district, but others are leery.

Comparability is also important as they work with the current school chief.

Kenneth LaCroix is being sought to assist the School Board with contract talks with Superintendent Mark Bezek

School board members  met Monday night with Ken La Croix, a consultant they are interested in hiring to help lead them through the negotiations process and an extension that may very well include performance-based incentives.

La Croix has helped with 32 superintendent searches throughout the nine-county metro, he told board members. He’s also been an interim superintendent twice since retiring from a 40-year career in education that he concluded with 22 years as the superintendent of Hastings.

Among the recent superintendent searches he has led include ones in Farmington, Rosemount-Apple Valley and Becker.

The School Board essentially interviewed La Croix, and members concluded they would like to work with him if they could agree to terms. Sue Farber reported at Monday night’s regular meeting progress toward that end has been made.

Board members were able to get an overview of the former superintendent’s body of work as a consultant and expressed that they would be comfortable working with him after speaking with him.

They asked about the opportunities and pitfalls with performance pay. He said school districts have been burned by them, but suggested they could be done and done well.

He suggested a pilot program to try it out, one that would be sufficient to serve as recognition for a job well done but not put the School Board in a bad position.

“The thing with (performance pay) is you — the board — are incumbent to do a good job,” La Croix said of the goal-setting and evaluation processes.

The School Board amended Bezek’s current contract this past summer to compensate him for a job well done.

The school chief had taken a voluntary pay freeze in Year 1 of his current contract. His salary for Year 2 and Year 3 was not specified but allowed for it to be negotiated.

School board members, in crafting an addendum, wanted to do three things. They wanted to create a competitive executive contract, retain Bezek and set the stage for the next contract.

Bezek’s initial contract was a bare bones model drawn up by a school district that felt burned when the previous superintendent, Alan Jensen, left, Farber has explained to newer board members.

Board members wrestled with how to balance creating a competitive contract while still retaining an ability to incentivise the next contract to maximize Bezek’s performance during the next several years.

The board discussed several approaches, including one that was deemed illegal by counsel. In the end they settled on one similar to one of the initial contract proposals that was discussed. Bezek’s 2011-2012 base salary is  $182,532.

La Croix said districts of comparable size and comparable problems are commanding an annual salary of about that.  He also went through a laundry list of contract components and how other districts have handled them.