Board works to reward Bezek

by Jim Boyle

As members of the Elk River Area School Board wrestled on Monday, Jan. 30 with assembling a contract offer for Superintendent Mark Bezek, they considered how to handle sick time, vacation, health insurance and post-retirement benefits among other things.

It was clear as each item made it onto the table, school board members were looking for incentives to keep their leader here and not out on the prowl for other job opportunities or to retire.

“We won’t be giving any golden parachutes or severance packages,” said Sue Farber, one of the board members to weigh in on the matter.

When they concluded a number of matters, Jolene Jorgensen, the chairwoman-elect of the school board, summarized the progress the School Board had made.

“It’s a good start,” one board member said.

“It’s very close to a finish,” another chimed.

Next steps included sharing the board’s work with Bezek and an attorney as well as Kenneth LaCroix, a consultant who is working as a liaison between the board and the superintendent.

Bezek’s base salary is $182,532, and the School Board is considering offering 2 percent increases each year of a new three-year contract.

His salary is higher than previous years in part because of changes in the laws related to the Teachers Retirement Association. The share of TRA paid by the district is now rolled into the salary.

Talk of tying Bezek’s potential pay increases to performance did not get a lot of support on Jan. 30. One idea was to create a range from 0 to 5 percent that the school chief’s salary could be increased as a means of offering performance pay. That went nowhere.

Board members moved on to other aspects of Bezek’s contract, such as vacation time.

Board members want Bezek to use vacation and not lose it. They’re not interested in seeing vacation time being banked and cashed out. They’re looking for a regularly refreshed superintendent ready to tackle the challenges of the day.

Sick time got a lot of discussion, and that’s one area the board was willing to consider using to help fund retirement expenses.

The stipulation they are interested in attaching is that if Bezek were to retire, post-retirement benefits are gone.

The School Board wants the district to continue to fund continuing education through a stipend.

School board members had different assessments. All agreed they had come a long way.

“We’ve compromised,” Jorgensen said, noting the School Board had not met many of Bezek’s contract requests. “We all agree we want him to stay here. Does (what we have come up with) reflect that?”