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Mitchell school board extends Graves' contract

The Mitchell Board of Education gave Superintendent Joe Graves a new three-year contract Monday evening, but chose not to increase his annual salary at this time.

The board met in a closed-door executive session for nearly an hour at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy building to evaluate Graves' job performance as a part of the regularly scheduled meeting.

Board member Dana Price later said the review was positive and explained Graves' salary will be considered at a later date.

"Most of the time, we try to see the budget numbers before we can think about things like that," Price said. "For us to add costs without concern about the overall picture would be irresponsible."

Before getting a new contract Monday, Graves' contract -- signed June 11, 2013 -- ran through June 30, 2016. His new contract goes through June 2017. Graves' first year with the district was the 2000-01 school year, when he was paid an annual salary of $82,500. He said there are no other changes to his new contract other than extending it by one year.

"The board was very kind and I appreciate it very much," Graves said.

His current salary is $121,000, plus 100 percent of his family medical and dental insurance premiums, and term life insurance worth $50,000. The district also contributes 6 percent of Graves' annual salary to a tax-sheltered annuity of his choice and another 6 percent to the South Dakota Retirement System on his behalf.

Price said Graves has helped the district receive an average of about $530,000 to $540,000 in grants annually beyond what other schools receive.

"He's more than making his own wages by bringing in significantly more than he's being paid," Price said.

Board member Deb Olson said she is also impressed with the grant money Graves has helped the district receive, but she wants to make sure Graves is not overloaded with his duties.

"One of my thoughts is Dr. Graves has done lots of things in our district and continues to do them," Olson said, "but as his job increases in responsibilities, we want to know as a board what we can do to help him continue to do all we're asking him to do."

The board discussed Graves during what is known as an "executive session," which is the term applied to a non-public portion of a meeting. State law allows -- but does not require -- executive sessions for "discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of any public officer."

Mitchell School District Business Manager Steve Culhane said Graves is the eighth-highest paid superintendent in the state this school year, according to information he cited from the School Administrators of South Dakota. Sioux Falls Superintendent Pam Homan tops the list at $188,355 and Rapid City's Tim Mitchell is second at $150,000.

He is the fifth-highest paid superintendent among Eastern South Dakota Conference schools, behind Harrisburg ($148,0000), Brandon Valley ($143,980), Brookings ($131,472) and Aberdeen ($129,785).

Board President Theresa Kriese said after the meeting that she's pleased with what Graves has done for the district and is encouraged by his leadership. When comparing compensation for the superintendent with other districts in the state, Kriese said she looks at the size of the school district and longevity.

"He's doing a great job, and an individual that's doing a great job deserves to be compensated," she said.

Prior to a board meeting in February, Culhane explained it is typical for superintendents to hold three-year contracts that get updated annually. The executive session and the extension of Graves' contract were on the February agenda but were postponed because two board members were absent.

Culhane has been in the business department for the school district since 1984, and said he can only recall one Mitchell School District superintendent who did not hold a contract beyond one year.

"Most of the time, it's because being a superintendent is a tough job," said Culhane, who's been the business manager since 1994. "This is the way they protect themselves. If the board, for whatever reason, wanted to terminate the contract, the school district would be liable to pay the remaining amount of the years left.

"But if the superintendent wants to leave before the contract is up, the school district isn't liable for any of that money."

MCTEA building

The board approved an architectural and construction management contract with Puetz Corp. at the meeting for remodeling and renovating the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy (MCTEA) building.

The contract pays 7.5 percent of the total construction costs for architecture and 6 percent for construction management services.

The remodel of the MCTEA building is from a $1,240,228 grant awarded to the Mitchell School District in February through the Governor's Grants for Career and Technical Education.

Graves said the overall costs of the renovation will be between $700,000 and $750,000, which includes the architectural and construction management fees.

"We are asking speedily designed and speedily constructed so that we can have a lion's share of this done by the first day of school," Graves said, referring to next school year.

MCTEA is a partnership between Mitchell Technical Institute and its parent institution, the Mitchell School District. Students who attend the classes can receive college credits for some institutions such as MTI and Dakota Wesleyan University.


The board approved the following personnel items.

• Resignations: Joseph Nepodal, L.B. Williams Elementary vocal music teacher, effective at the end of the school year; Melissa Temple, high school math teacher, effective at the end of the school year; Kathy Kramer, seventh-grade social studies and language arts teacher, effective at the end of the school year; Lori Ischen, speech language therapist at GBR, effective end of school year.

• Early retirement: Hallie Tate, L.B. Williams Elementary instructor, grades 3-4, effective at the end of the school year; Mark Horan, high school science instructor, effective at the end of the school year.

• Retirements: Sharon Max, employee services director, effective June 30; Gerry Tatina, superintendent's secretary, effective June 30; Gayle Dice, third-grade teacher at GBR, effective end of school year.

• Transfers: Dianne Dubbelde, from NSLP cook at the middle school to 5.5-hour prep cook at the middle school, effective Feb. 18; Katrina Talley, from kindergarten at Longfellow Elementary to first grade at Longfellow Elementary, effective next school year.

• New hires: Dana Hettinger, custodian at L.B. Williams Elementary, eight hours daily at $11.50 per hour, effective Feb. 18; Alleah Weygaerts, NSLP cook, middle school, seven hours daily at $10.25 per hour, effective March 3; Dezara Fenski, medical assistant instructor at Mitchell Technical Institute, $45,000 annually, effective April 1; Paula Kummer, staff accountant, MTI, $17.14 hourly, part-time March 18 through May 9, and then full-time beginning May 12 at $34,000 annually.

• Reduction in force: Jeff Hoffman, vo-ag instructor at the high school, effective at the end of the school year; David Reuland, auto mechanics instructor at the high school, effective at the end of the school year.

Other business

In other business, board members:

• Recognized the state champion Mitchell High School gymnastics team, with Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs saying, "Never have I been so pleased with the composure the girls showed."

• Approved, on the first of two required readings, revisions to Board Policy 544 on wellness, as recommended by a district committee to bring the district into compliance with new National School Lunch Program requirements.

• Approved, on the first of two required readings, revisions to Board Policy 518 on tobacco-free schools, as recommended by a committee to more clearly and effectively communicate the district's policy on tobacco use at district facilities and activities.

• Approved sending waiver requests to the Department of Education so English I and physical science can be offered at the Mitchell Middle School for high school credit after a public hearing was held on the topic.

• Heard board member reports from Deb Olson and Neil Putnam.

• Heard, during a superintendent's report, Graves explain the replacement of the Mitchell Middle School roof is now under construction; a major portion of the middle school parking lot will be replaced this summer; and the first step of replacing terrazzo floors at Longfellow Elementary will be this summer.

• Announced member Rick Johnson was absent, but Price said after the meeting that Johnson -- who is recovering from a stroke -- has been moved to Mitchell's Firesteel Healthcare Center from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.