Should the superintendent’s salary be discussed in public?

A frequent commenter has raised an intriguing question about the $5,000 raise recently granted to Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves. The raise was approved after an "executive session," which is a euphemism that governments use to describe a non-public, closed-door meeting. (Click here to read our coverage of the public portion of the meeting.)

By my reading of state law, the Board of Education was fully within its rights to discuss the raise in an executive session. Personnel issues are one of the lawfully allowed executive session topics. But the law does not require a superintendent’s salary to be discussed exclusively in executive session. The board could have chosen to conduct some or all of the discussion in public.

So, here is the question that was raised in the comment section (I’ve cleaned up the grammar and spelling):

Before approving a salary increase for the superintendent, shouldn’t the superintendent’s job performance be evaluated in an open session seeking public input from parents and taxpayers?

What’s your answer to that question?

42 thoughts on “Should the superintendent’s salary be discussed in public?

  1. I suppose, but that should be the job of the school board members we have elected. They must act as our eyes, ears and voice.

  2. Seems like personnel issues are appropriately dealt with in executive session when disciplinary matters or negotiating concerns are in play. When a public entity is making an award for a contract, commending an employee and then rewarding their service with a raise, then, it seems to me, that it’s in the public interest to do so in a public forum.

    The public is rightly concerned and at times suspicious when public business is conducted in private.

    Transparency, Accountability, and Openness should be embraced.

    After all, Graves works for the public and we pay his salary.

  3. I was VERY Surprised that Mr. Putnam voted No. I think they ALL should have voted NO. My surprise is due to the fact he usually goes along with what everyone else does. Good to see that someone was using common sense! Finally!!!

  4. I can understand talking generalities, as in budget, but not personalities.
    There is a place for executive session, and in my feeble mind that is for personnel problems. Discuss employees in private, without their attendance, then give them the review (still in private).

  5. I will admit that I am fairly well known for speaking and writing to let the public really know the facts. Yes, I did call Seth and asked him to put this question of the $5000 raise on the Republic Insider. For that I commend the Daily Republic and Seth. I am pleased with the common sense expressed in the comments published so far. It may be that because the public knows my decade’s long service in keeping the public informed, that ordinary citizens are free to express their shock and outright anger at the board’s action and the secretiveness in arriving at it. Where ever I have gone the last day or so, people I do not even know speak so openly. It would be cowardly to not admit that one person, in his own words, thanked me for being the only person to really stand up and question some of the actions of, in his words, “Holy Joe” and his board! I proudly sign my name to one of many issues the public wants to discuss but are too afraid to say a single word. Many of the school staff feel that they cannot say a word until they are safely retired. Such a sad way to teach!

    The media was quick to mention how a few years ago Sioux City hired a superintendent from West Central at a salary increase of nearly six figures. Rapid City chose a superintendent from Chamberlain at a very large increase, partly because he had been very successful in dealing with Native Americans and Rapid City wanted that skill used in its district.

  6. This sounds like it was entirely appropriate to do this in executive session. Some people are going to take issue with it, but that is what it is for, personel issues. As far as a job evaluation, how many of the readers of this have a job that they deal with the public on. They do not have the public having a say if they get a raise or not. And before I get blasted for that comment, I understand that he deals with the public’s children. His evaluation should be done by his bosses, who are on the school board. We are the ones that elected them to do exactly that. I don’t necessarily believe the raise was appropriate, but I am not a school board member. In any case, congratulations to anyone that gets a $5000 a year raise. Never had one and probably never will.

  7. I Don’t wan tto cast ill will but did the teachers get raise equal to the superintendents? A mark of a good leader os to take care of their people first. Maybe Graves will throw a 5K bash for the teachers as they surely deserve the money mor than he does.

  8. I see people on blogs post use that “teachers are worth more than superintendents” meme all the time.

    Yes, teachers teach the kids. They should be paid better than this state is willing to pay them.

    Who gets paid more: a doctor at Sanford, or the CEO of the Sanford Health System? Who gets paid more, a staff lawyer or the senior partner in a law firm? Who gets paid more, a car salesman, or the sales manager?

    Graves is the CEO of the Mitchell School District. He’s responsible for the education of every student and the performance of every staff member. He should get paid more, and it’s crazy that anyone would suggest other wise.

    Joe Graves got a 5 percent raise. Five percent. If you guys have never gotten a five percent raise, then you just aren’t any good at your job.

    And, it’s people that complain about increases in the superintendent’s salary that are going to be crowing loudly when Graves leaves, and all of the sudden the board is going to have to find out that the next superintendent they hire is going to cost them big time.

    Should the sups performance and salary discussions be debated in public? Of course not. That is, unless you want to limit the superintendent applicant pool to only those people who want their job scrutinized and their pay debated on the front page of the newspaper.

  9. While there are times that I don’t agree with public officials, I wonder if these public discussions of salaries are often done to inflame rather than inform.

    This is either an easy mark or a tough assignment to report. It’s easy to get people worked up about any amount of money that a public servant receives…it’s hard to put it in context. Harder yet is to add perspective.

  10. Attn: MSD 17-2 Taxpayers,

    In The Daily Republic’s 4/30/10 front page lead article entitled “School Raises Explained”, newspaper reporter Ross Dolan “inadvertently” understated the total educator salary increases when he reported, “Under a 3-year contract negotiated with the teachers’ union, called the Mitchell Education Association, the district’s teachers received across-the-board raises of $2,000 in 2008-09, $2,100 in 2009-10, and will receive $2,100 for the 2010-11 school year. Multiplied by the roughly 200 teachers on the school district payroll, the raises will cost about $1.24 million over three years”. Mr. Dolan “inadvertently” overlooked the “piggyback effect” of the three year educator salary increases and grossly understated how large of an educator pay hike Supt Graves inappropriately recommended and the board rubberstamped in June 2008 when district leaders failed to notice any of economic/financial hard times forecasts discussed daily during the spring of 2008 presidential primary campaigns. Here is Mr. Dolan’s math [$2,000 + $2,100 + $2,100] X 200 = $1,240,000.

    In 2008-09, each educator received a $2,000 annual salary increase. In 2009-10, each educator received a $2,100 increase – compared to 2007-08, it was a $4,100 increase. In 2010-11, each educator will receive a $2,100 increase – compared to 2007-08, it will be a $6,200 increase. The correct SD-math shows educator salaries increasing by $2.45 million during the Mitchell Education Association’s 3-year contract [$2,000 + $4,100 + $6,200] X 200 = $2,460,000. The Daily Republic has an obligation to correctly report the facts to the community – a “boldfaced correction” needs to be printed on the front page of the Saturday, 5/1/10 newspaper!

    The total 3-year increase in salary related educator payroll expenditures is actually more than the above $2.46 million when the district’s matching share of FICA, Medicare, and retirement contribution expenditures are factored in at an additional 10% factor (FICA .062, Medicare .0145, retirement about .02). The district’s actual three-year increase in these four salary expenditures tallies up to about $2.7 million [$2,460,000 X 1.1]. The Daily Republic also has an obligation to correctly report all of the facts not just part of the facts to the community – “boldfaced full disclosure” needs to be included on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper along with the above “boldfaced correction”. Thank you in advance for doing so.

  11. I feel real sorry that some bloggers feel the need to be so negative- he is worth his hire- in comparison to other professionals- other fields and other towns- why complain? We live in such a nice country, a clean town, low crime rate and good schools- why complain? Perhaps some of the complainers could go to their local coffee shop where people sit gossip and complain all the time- it’s just not the cig smoke that keeps me out of the local resturuant but the atmosphere- no thanks- TRY CHURCH_ And pray for that attitude you have- try to be nice once in awhile? Is it too much to ask?

  12. Shoot, I sit in the coffee shop, and don’t whine about teachers or administrator. We complain about our politicians, both parties. Now go have a nice day. 😉 (And pay your taxes while you are at it.)

  13. Dr. Graves is entitled to a raise. I disagree on how he handled the middle school pool situation & the gymnastics team, but his job is a hard one. It is a thankless job, and as someone previously said, he is essentially the CEO of the Mitchell School District.

    I don’t understand the jealousy some people have of his pay. To those people jealous of it, get a PhD in education and start applying for superintendent positions.

  14. By no means should his salary be determined in an open forum. How redicules is that? If that is the case, then every employee of the school district should be discussed in open forum. And take it a step further, should all the city and county employees reviews be discussed in an open forum since they are also payed by the tax payer’s dollars? We elected school board members, city council etc. to determine merit increases. There is always going to people that like him and people that don’t like him. An open forum will just become a shouting match with nothing accomplished in the end. A $5,000 maerit increase isn’t outragous considering the job. I received an increase this year and my job isn’t nearly as important as providing a good education to our communities youth. Being the leader of a school district this large isn’t as easy as people think it is. Don’t comment until you have walked in his shoes. You couldn’t pay me enough to take Grave’s job.

  15. I would like to know what TOTAL salary and benefits
    package Dr. Graves receives. Please share that with the public. It is surely more than $114,000.

  16. I would like to know what TOTAL salary and benefits
    package Dr. Graves receives. Please share that with the public. It is surely more than $114,000.

  17. Regarding Tupper’s definition of an executive session as an “euphemism that governments use to describe a non-public, closed-door meeting.”

    What is euphemistic about that? Isn’t that EXACTLY what an executive session is — regardless whether or not you think such a meeting is justified or not?

  18. How is it that they don’t have enough money in the budget for gymnastics and say that something needs to be cut but his salary gets a pay hike of $5,000???? Just doesn’t seem like its on the up & up. I really think that more changes need to be made than gymnastics!!!!

  19. How is it that there is not enough money in the budget for gymnastics but plenty for a raise for Dr. Graves???? Smells funny to me!!

  20. Do we always have to wear out the topic of discussion? Enough already! If I read another rant from MSD 17-2 Wauch Daugs (and we know who you are)I may scream! Change the subject more often Seth. This is getting old. The other topics have been there even longer than the Graves thing and all that can be said has been!

  21. To “what?”,

    You’re missing the point. I provided the definition of a euphemism. Government bodies do not. They just use the term “executive session,” without explaining what it means.

    The definition of a “euphemism” is “a substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”

    That’s exactly what governments do when they use the term “executive session.” It sounds a lot more agreeable and less offensive than saying “OK, now we’ve come to the point in the meeting where we kick everybody out of the room, close the doors, and continue to meet. You’ll never know what we talk about it in here, because it’s kept entirely secret.”

    Some executive sessions are justified, but I believe many are not. By using the euphemism “executive session” instead of the truer-sounding “closed meeting,” governments make it sound like all such meetings are justified.

  22. Right on Seth for an honest explanation of a method used, too often, to keep the public in the dark!

  23. A superintendent’s job performance should be conducted in open session! Why? Doing so would enable the public to discuss a superintendent’s recommendations to school board members such as Supt Joe’s past offer to spend $100,000 annually leasing gymnasium practice space in a proposed $25 million events center; his June 2008 recommendation to increase total educator payroll expenditures by $2.7 million under a proposed 3-year contract; his winter of 2009 recommendation to condemn a structurally stable and safe to school and build a $12 million new school; his spring of 2009 recommendation to condemn a $6 million indoor swimming pool and convert it into a gymnasium; and his fall of 2009 recommendation to condemn a structurally stable and safe to use stadium and build a $3.5 million new stadium – all done without a public vote with Supt Joe’s job performance evaluations conducted behind closed doors! In addition, there’s the spring of 2010 recommendation to cut about $17,000 out of the gymnastics program budget and increase subordinate administrator salaries by a similar dollar amount. Who owns MSD 17-2 – Supt Graves or district patrons?

    Closed door, executive session privileges are not extended to a superintendent of schools or administrators for the purpose of discussing the dollar amount of their salary increases! SDCL 1-25-2 states, “… closed meetings may be held for the sole purpose of: (1) Discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of any public officer or employee … (four other specified topics of discussion are identified in the statute – discussing the dollar amount of administrator salary increases is not one of the allowed discussion topics). During the Apr 26, 2010 board meeting, MSD 17-2 committed two Class 2 misdemeanors. First, MSD 17-2 violated SDCL 1-25-1 when the doors were locked preventing a patron from attending the open meeting discussions. Second, MSD 17-2 violated SDCL 1-25-2 when the dollar amount of administrator salary increases were discussed in secret behind closed doors. When a superintendent’s job performance is always conducted behind closed doors, board members who always obediently follow their Master’s recommendations need not comply with state laws nor ask for the public’s approval of condemnation recommendations!

  24. Seth what you just did is justiy your insanity- big cry baby- if it doesn’t meet your standards then it fails the Seth test- why don’t you run for office— chicken aren’t you ??? SETHIE

  25. sound like a bunch of sour grapes Seth- when was the last time you served in any capacity on anything or do you just sit there and throw rocks at everyone MR EXPERT?

  26. A great reporter belongs to no organization, party or faith. Otherwise cheap shot artists like goofie and cry baby would cry about his or her conflict of interest!

  27. Are you saying seth is a great reorter? Now that sounds like a euphamism if I ever heard one. Now that would be fodder for a closed door meeting if there ever was fodder to be discussed in a closed door meeting. I agree with the above, stop copping out on the ‘it would be unethical for me to be in public office as it would be a conflict of interest’ crap. Many professionals are able to seperate the two, if it is a conflict, simply abstain as the current apropriately does and let the others make policy. If you think you can do a better job than those already sticking their careers and reputations on the line then stick your own neck out, step up to the plate and enlighten us all with your superior knowledg and intelect. Just think of what you would have access to when you yourself are in those closed door meetings. You could then speak from a position of truth and knowledge instead of inuendo and half truths.

  28. Re: “Closed meetings” sound more justifiable than “executive sessions” — really? I have no problem, if this is how you really feel, for you to go ahead and describe those meetings with either term. The SD Newspaper Association of State Editor Guild or whatever it’s called should work with the Legislature to change the statute to make government more open than quibble over those two terms that are in the current statute. It does seem that the DR is somewhat selective on this issue, but I suppose that’s a product of picking your battles and limited staffing in a tough environment for newspapers.
    Right now, the issue, as I read it, was handled correctly by the school board.
    I would be curious to know, however, whether anyone that went in to that executive session or closed door portion of that particular meeting gave you ANYTHING off the record to support a suspicion that that meeting did not comply with the current statute, i.e., that the board discussed something altogether different.
    Don’t divulge your source, but please let the public know if anyone — on this issue (regarding Graves’ increase) made such an allegation.

    As a firm advocate for open government, I’d welcome the change that would ensure more meetings in the future are open. In the meantime, your role as a blogger seems to be feeding into the local frenzy on this issue, that, for the most part is being fed by anonymous posters with their own personal agendas.

    I assume you (in your role as a reporter/editor) were at the board meeting. I wasn’t. Nor have a read a transcript. But I bet there was a specific announcement along the lines, “that we’re going into executive session for the purpose of discussing the performance evaluation of the superintendent.”

    I may not like it, but unless I know — not just suspect — that the agenda is really about something else, I’m not going to question anybody’s motives.

    I salute the DR for its coverage, but I just wanted everyone to assess what was written in the paper (and its journalistic standards) and what is written and commented on in this blog (albeit with its ‘standards.’)

    I have no dog in this fight and I’m not carrying the water for Graves and the board. I’m simply interested in fairness to everyone involved.

  29. There is plenty of money in the budget for a $5000 raise for Dr Graves, but not enough money to fix the heaving and potholes in the middle school driveway? I think the school board and Dr. Graves need to get their priorties straight.

  30. what do you call your bull sessions? closed meetings or executive sessions? seems you need to do the right thing here?

  31. Folks here are the Supt Graves job performance evaluation facts. Supt Joe’s job performance evaluation was not conducted during the April 26, 2010 closed meeting!

    The following was taken directly from the MSD 17-2 website’s posted January 26, 2010 board meeting minutes. Action #311198 – Motion by Kriese, seconded by Freidel to move into executive session as per SDCL 1-25-2 (1) for the School Board self evaluation and the Superintendent’s evaluation at 6:11 p.m. Motion carried. The board moved back into the regular portion of the meeting at 8:45 p.m. Action #311199 – Motion by Putnam, seconded by Christensen to extend Superintendent Joseph Graves contract with the Mitchell School District one additional year. Motion carried.

  32. Supt Joe’s job performance evaluation was not conducted during the April 26, 2010 closed meeting! The following was taken directly from the MSD 17-2 website’s January 26, 2010 board meeting minutes. Action #311198 – Motion by Kriese, seconded by Freidel to move into executive session as per SDCL 1-25-2 (1) for the School Board self evaluation and the Superintendent’s evaluation at 6:11 p.m. Motion carried. The board moved back into the regular portion of the meeting at 8:45 p.m. Action #311199 – Motion by Putnam, seconded by Christensen to extend Superintendent Joseph Graves contract with the Mitchell School District one additional year. Motion carried.

    The April 26, 2010 executive session discussions were focused on the dollar amount of all district administrator salary increases for the next school year! No administrator job performance evaluations were conducted during this closed meeting. The following is from the MSD 17-2 website’s April 26, 2010 board meeting agenda – each Agenda Item was recommended and signed by Supt Graves. Agenda Item IX; Subject – Board consideration to approve executive session as per SDCL 1-25-2 (1) (… Discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character, or fitness of any public officer or employee …). Agenda Item X; Subject – Board consideration to approve salaries for K-12 administrators for the 2010-11 school year … [12 district administrators (not Graves) were listed by name with a recommended salary increase … the total salary increases recommended for the 12 administrators initially tallied up to $15,400]. Agenda Item XI; Subject – Board consideration to approve salary for Superintendent of Schools for the 2010-11 school year. The MSD 17-2 published agenda for this executive session states in TDR’s Apr 26 newspaper reads, “Holding a closed, executive session to discuss employee matters”. During the Apr 26 executive session, the dollar amount of the 12 district administrators’ salaries and Supt Joe’s salary were discussed. As reported in TDR’s Apr 27 school board meeting summary, the dollar amount of three administrators’ recommended salary increases were changed with the total salary increases approved by the board for the 12 administrators tallying up to $16,400. The focus of the executive session discussions was the dollar amount of the 12 administrators and Supt Joe’s salary increases for next year. Having done so in a closed meeting, MSD 17-2 violated SDCL 1-25-2 (1) and a Class 2 misdemeanor was committed.

  33. Heres to Joe Graves. Keep up the good work. Never mind the bitter watch dogs with the bone up there bung. They need to get a life and move on to another district that better suits their lifestyle. I feel bad for their kids.

  34. To confused. I agree with the post from another topic. Your handle fits. My comment was journalism 101 for ALL reporters as I said “he or she.” Normally I would not respond to juvenile rants but I make an exception just for you to clear up your confusion.

  35. Folks it looks like supt Graves got a proper evaluation and a well deserved raise. Carry on.

  36. But “Doggie wacher”:

    The question was “should the superintendent’s raise be discussed in public?”

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