(Editor’s note: The following post has been updated to provided clarity to the issue of pay equity written about this article.)
by Jim Boyle
The District 728 Community Education staff who stepped up into new roles after $300,000 was cut from the department’s budget two years ago is finally about to be rewarded financially.
The Elk River Area School Board reviewed at a work session last month district plans to compensate six employees who were promoted into the roles of coordinators when the program was overhauled as part of a market correction.
The positions in line to be compensated include those responsible for overseeing community education adult and youth enrichment program development, community education marketing, activities, daily operations and supervision of community education extended day and enrichment sites.
The plan to compensate these folks has been scaled back after a subcommittee saw a more generous plan from Rod Barnes, the director of labor relations. Committee members balked at it for fear of setting an unwanted precedent. When the full board got their hands on the latest plan, they had similar concerns — even though they were presented a less costly proposal.
The community education staff was promised to be rewarded for taking on beefier assignments after their department was reorganized.
There are two main issues at play — one being pay equity and the other being increased workload and promotions.
The cuts included a clerk at the Community Education Center and a member of Local 284, who was laid off. It also included six at-will employees who were terminated. There were four assistant coordinators of community education programs, a coordinator of extended day and enrichment and a specialist of community education programs. A seventh at-will employee had her hours reduced by 10 per week.
District 728 Community Education staff took on more work after the cuts, and there were already pay equity issues with how much District 728 Community Ed staff were making.
The mid-year correction was done in November of 2009 after District 728 Community Education hit a wall after years of growth.
It will cost about $67,000 to create the new salary schedule for this wage and benefits group, which includes about $5,000 in back pay and places the staff members on an appropriate salary schedule for being community education program coordinators.
The biggest component of the $67,000 is taking care of equity issues that arose from positions being undervalued.
The range step coordinators used to be $37,740 for Step 1 to $46,410 for Step 6. The proposal to fix the pay equity issues starts it at $48,758 at Step 1 to $56, 559 in Step 6.
The initial plan would have cost the district $117,000. That plan would have covered the equity issue back to the 2009–10 school year, but board members in committee expressed misgivings about the potential precedent that would set.
Board members’ concerns have been amplifed, because they are aware the district has other pay equity issues to address.
“Is this just the tip of the iceberg?” School Board Vice Chairwoman-elect Jane Bunting asked.
School board member Sue Farber similarly asked, “Can we afford to set this precedent?”
Barnes assured board members the district can afford it. He said this particular situation is different from District 728 employees who may not be set at the right rate of pay based on the district’s point system.
“These folks made a job change,” Barnes said, noting that it is different from those who may be undervalued or overvalued in terms of the school district’s pay-equity model. Barnes said the broader pay-equity concerns will have to be taken up during collective bargaining.
Charlie Blesener, then administrator of community education who has since been promoted to director of community engagement, said the plan to compensate makes good on a promise that he made to these individuals.
“They were given additional duties and promoted … to maintain community education at previous levels,” he said. “We need to recognize the commitment we made.”
And most importantly, Blesener said, is the pay equity issue needs to be resolved.
Barnes said school board members can choose to do what they want. None of the approaches suggested would be illegal. “It’s more a question of ethics and how you want to treat people,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said.
Barnes expressed comfort with both approaches.
“We’re fixing a wrong,” he said. “It should have been done before the reorganization took effect, but it wasn’t.”