Franz, Palamand cite perception issue in opposing extended-day pay

Extended-day contracts issue of transparency, Franz says

By Kari Williams

Some Mehlville Board of Education members voiced concerns last week about the community’s perception of additional-compensation contracts for more than 30 school district employees.

As such, Superintendent Eric Knost will consider how to present future additional compensation information in a different format than traditionally has been used.

The compensation, totaling $100,864.83, already was included the district’s approved 2012-2013 budget and was approved with a 5-2 vote at the board’s July 26 meeting.

Board member Rich Franz and board President Venki Palamand voted against approval of the compensation for positions Knost said he needs to operate the district.

“These are positions and extended days that I need to effectively operate this district, and I can tell you that I may feel I’m good at what I do, but I can’t do it without these folks,” the superintendent told the board.

Franz, who said he does not have a problem paying the employees, said the presentation of the additional compensation does not lend itself to transparency among the community, the district and the school board.

“The perception is if these folks are being paid additional over and above what the public was led to believe their salaries are,” Franz said. “… I think we owe it to the community, the taxpayers and these folks who are getting this money, so they don’t have to worry about what people think of them, that we be a little more transparent and upfront about how we’re going to do this.”

Eighteen of the 31 additional-compensation contracts are for counselors, who Knost said are paid on a teacher contract, “meaning they roughly are paid like our teachers are paid to teach and work for about 9.5 months.”

“That’s what their contract states. That’s the amount of money we agree to pay them … For me to operate this district, I have to require these folks to do things beyond those days that they are contracted for,” he said.

Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch told the board counselors are on the teachers’ salary schedule based on their education and years of service.

Board member Ron Fedorchak asked Knost why counselors do not operate under a 10-month contract, as opposed to the roughly nine-month teacher contract.

Knost said counselors do not always work “exactly 10 months” and that the district is required to abide by by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, data reporting requirements.

“It’s not unique to Mehlville. It’s not crooked. It’s not hiding anything. It’s not under the table,” Knost said. “It’s the way the state requires us to record days beyond what people are paid to do. You have to remember, our teachers, our counselors are not paid for summers … So when we have them beyond their contract, rightfully so we pay them beyond their contract …”

Fedorchak said when it comes to education and administrative items, he trusts Knost “100 percent” when he says these positions are needed.

“The thing that I come back to is that they’re needed like this every single year, and we know this, so why don’t we contract for it?” he said.

When Fedorchak asked if counselors could be moved to “more principal-like contracts,” Knost said the district would pay a lot more to do that.

How the district currently pays employees working outside of their contracted days abides “by how DESE requires (the district) to report through Core Data, how they require us to pay people beyond their contract,” according to Knost.

“We’re paying them the money we agreed to pay them when we approved the contracts,” Knost said.

Because the funds already are built into the budget, board Secretary Larry Felton said “what we’re really talking about is the discretion of the superintendent to use money we’ve already approved as part of a line item to spend money within a line item.”

Board member Mark Stoner said he understands the need to get the job done and educate students, but suggested looking into how the additional-compensation days are calculated into pay during contract negotiations.

“Perhaps during contract negotiations we should put some more forethought into this,” Stoner said. “That’s the board’s issue. At least in my opinion, and maybe in the future we need to talk about that.”