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Golden Parachutes for School Administrators?

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School boards in Minnesota continue to dole out oversized severance packages to retiring superintendents three years after a report by the State Auditor's office brought them under public scrutiny. While school districts complain about funding shortfalls affecting teacher recruitment and critical programs, several superintendents will be taking severance payouts this year in excess of $200,000.

Edina Superintendent Ken Dragseth will get more than $300,000 for leaving, and in St. Cloud, a retiring associate superintendent, Bernice Berns, will receive a $239,000 severance package. State Auditor Pat Anderson, who made these severance payments an issue in 2003, called the deals "outrageous."

Severance incentives were once a way for school boards in Minnesota to attract qualified candidates while dodging a state law limiting superintendent salaries to 95% of the Governor's salary. For example, Superintendent Berns' deal included compensation for over a year's worth of unutilized vacation time and sick leave accumulated over her 35-year career in St. Cloud. However, when the law was repealed in 1998, school boards continued to use the incentives.

New superintendent contracts have been adjusted to restrain these large severance payments since Anderson made them an issue. However, school boards are still bound to honor older contracts that do not contain such restraints. Moreover, the state Legislature has not heeded Anderson's demands to take action on the issue, possibly leaving the door open to further abuses.

There are adverse financial consequences of jumping into another education job in Minnesota after retiring. However, there is no penalty if the retiree takes an education job in another state. For example, Dan Kaler retired as North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Superintendent in 2005 with a pension paying him about $60,000 a year plus $71,600 in accumulated and unused days off, and $117,700 in a post-retirement health care savings plan. He continued to receive all these benefits after taking a job in Wisconsin at a salary of $110,000.

Many critics believe that the fact that the salary and benefits are skewed to lower pay in the early years of employment but overly generous retirement is a major reason why the school teaching and administration population is heavily female. Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 6-26-06

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