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Childs' compensation as Mitchell superintendent comparable to districts of similar size

Contract accepted earlier this week pays $175,000 per year, up from Graves’ $163,667 salary

Mitchell High School Principal Dr. Joe Childs stands for a photo in this Mitchell Republic file photo.
Mitchell High School Principal Dr. Joe Childs stands for a photo in this Mitchell Republic file photo.
Mitchell Republic File Photo

MITCHELL — When the Mitchell Board of Education accepted the signed contract for Joe Childs to become the next full-time superintendent of the Mitchell School District early this week, it marked the first time in over 20 years a new top administrator stepped into the leadership role for the Mitchell School District.

The hiring of Childs from his position as Mitchell High School principal to district superintendent involved a professional search firm, interviews with candidates and finally an offer from the board, which Childs verbally accepted in March and officially accepted with his signature Monday night.

That new contract included a new salary, which saw an increase with his new district-wide duties. As high school principal, Childs received compensation of $106,962. His new salary comes in at $175,000, a jump of approximately $70,000 over his previous position and about $12,000 above the $163,667 that previous superintendent Joe Graves received per his last contract.

Deb Olson, president of the Mitchell Board of Education, said an increase in salary was an appropriate move considering Graves’ most recent salary put him near the bottom in terms of comparable districts. She also said that had Graves stayed with the district, he would likely have received a raise similar to the 8% raise the district teaching staff recently received, which would have brought his salary closer to what Childs will make as superintendent.

We know that our teachers and school staff play a crucial role in providing a sense of belonging for these students, which can ultimately lead to better attendance rates.

“I think (the salary increase) was appropriate,” Olson said. “(Graves’) salary was low on that end. But if he would have continued at the district, he would have gotten a raise similar to what the teaching staff got. It would have been much the same as what Childs’ salary is.”

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The $175,000 figure puts Childs’ salary near the middle of other similarly-sized school districts in South Dakota. Out of the ESD and Sioux Falls schools surveyed by the Mitchell Republic, the Mitchell School District ranked eighth in superintendent salary.

Topping the list was the largest district in the state, Sioux Falls, which Todd Vik, business manager for the Sioux Falls School District, noted had a K-12 enrollment nearly nine times that of the Mitchell School District. Other schools near the top of the list are fast-growing districts near Sioux Falls such as Brandon Valley and Harrisburg.

Tea Area, which is slated to join the ESD in 2024, rounded out the list at the bottom of the survey with a current superintendent salary of $159,000, though Christine Esping, business manager for the Tea Area School District, said that was expected to jump to $170,130 for the 2023-24 school year.

  • $259,938 – Sioux Falls
  • $220,583 – Brandon Valley
  • $200,000 – Harrisburg
  • $189,056 – Brookings
  • $181,907 – Aberdeen Central
  • $179, 665 – Yankton
  • $178,848 – Huron
  • $175,000 – Mitchell
  • $171,174 – Watertown
  • $168,490 – Pierre
  • $159,000 – Tea Area

The Mitchell School District is unique in several ways, Olson said, including the fact that Mitchell Technical College operates under the purview of the Mitchell School District. While Mark Wilson serves as president of Mitchell Tech and handles most of the guidance of the school, there are extra district superintendent responsibilities related to the technical college that many other district superintendents don’t have to deal with.
“When we talk about Huron or Pierre or Tea Area and salary, we have to be cognizant that there are a few extras that come with Mitchell Technical College,” Olson said.

Outside salary, Childs’ contract lays out his responsibilities to the district and the forms of compensation that go with it. In addition to salary, the district pays 100% of the premium necessary for family major medical insurance coverage, dental insurance and term life insurance coverage of $50,000. The district contributes 6% of the annual salary to a tax-sheltered annuity of his choice and 6% to the South Dakota Retirement System.

The contract also specifies 22 days of annual leave, a $300 monthly stipend for the purpose of district travel and dues payment for membership in the School Administrators of South Dakota, the American Association of School Administrators and the South Dakota Superintendents Association.

Childs' contract is not dissimilar to the last contract the district had with Graves in terms of payment and benefit, though Childs’ contract does include a section on superintendent evaluation that is not included in Graves’ contract that was signed in July of 2022 and was scheduled to run through 2025.

Olson said the addition puts what has routinely been district policy officially into the contract and allows Childs a level of input in how those evaluations are administered. The language was added after reviewing contracts from other districts on recommendation from the superintendent search consulting firm, Olson said.

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That addition brings the Mitchell School District into a national group of districts that specify evaluation expectations in its employment contract with its superintendent.

According to a recent article by Education Week, in a survey of more than 2,400 superintendents by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, more than 90 percent of district leaders said they undergo annual performance reviews, and only 1.5 percent said they never have performance reviews.

But more than half, 53 percent, said their employment contracts don’t specify a process for those evaluations or the measures their bosses, local school boards, will use to evaluate them.

Graves was also once issued a vehicle for district travel through his contract. Olson, who has been on the Mitchell Board of Education for about 10 years, said the car was an early-2000s model sedan that the district purchased through state surplus, but it had not been a part of his contract since she had been a member of the board. The $300 travel stipend in Childs’ contract is meant to offset travel costs for using his own vehicle.

“We kind of laughed about it because it was like a 2000 Taurus. It was a unique car,” Olson said.

Childs’ contract officially begins July 1, which is when he will officially drop the “interim” portion of his interim superintendent title. The contract runs through June 30, 2025.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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