School board bumps salaries for Graves, other admins

It was a night of dollar signs for the Mitchell Board of Education on Monday night. School board members approved a slew of salary increases for teachers, administrators and the superintendent of the Mitchell School District during their regular ...

It was a night of dollar signs for the Mitchell Board of Education on Monday night.

School board members approved a slew of salary increases for teachers, administrators and the superintendent of the Mitchell School District during their regular meeting at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy.

In addition to approving the much-anticipated teacher salary increases as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Task Force, board members also gave Superintendent Joe Graves and other district administrators a boost.

Board members voted to raise Graves' salary from $128,550 to $134,550 for the 2016-17 school year, a raise of $6,000. The school board at an earlier meeting approved Graves' contract as superintendent for the next three years.

Administrator salary increases


Based on a review of comparable schools, Graves recommended 5 percent salary bumps for administrators in the school district. Board members approved the recommendations, with proposed revision to adjust Mitchell Middle School Principal Justin Zajic's increase from $4,000 to $4,500, raising his salary from $67,000 to $71,500; and to raise Gertie Belle Rogers Principal Vicki Harmdierks and L.B. Williams Elementary Principal Becky Roth by $3,500 instead of $3,000. That will raise their salaries from $75,450 to $78,950 each.

Other administrator salary increases the board approved include:

• Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs, $5,000 increase to raise salary from $85,000 to $90,000.

• MHS Assistant Principal Craig Mock, $3,000 increase to raise salary from $78,081 to $81,081.

• Middle school Assistant Principal Brittney Eide, $4,000 increase to raise salary from $57,000 to $61,000.

• Longfellow Elementary Principal Lisa Heckenlaible, $3,500 increase to raise salary from $70,000 to $73,500.

• Director of building and grounds John Sieverding, $2,500 increase to raise salary from $64,600 to $67,100.

• Business Manager Steve Culhane, $5,500 increase to raise salary $96,900 to $102,400.


• Curriculum Director Sherri Becker (.5), $1,875 increase to raise salary from $37,500 to $39,375.

• MCTEA Director Denise Hoffman (.5), $1,154 increase to raise salary from $23,620 to $24,774.

• Second Chance High Director Shane Thill, $3,325 increase to raise salary from $66,550 to $69,875.

Food Service Director Leann Carmody received a $5,000 increase, "due to a severe problem of comparability with her peers in other districts." Her budget is separate from the general fund budget, which supports the other listed salaries.

Teacher salary increase approved

The school board approved amending the third year of a three-year agreement with the Mitchell Education Association to increase teacher salaries. The funding is per FTE, so each full-time employee will get a $6,000 increase; half-time employees would receive $3,000.

Graves said the district re-opened negotiations with the education association for the third year of the district's three-year contract. That action stemmed directly from the Blue Ribbon Task Force's recommendations, which were approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to increase teacher pay in South Dakota. Graves said the education association has approved the agreement.

The amended agreement also replaces a section on early retirement and adds a paragraph on paid time off. The new retirement paragraph states that retiring school district employees can't stay in the district's medical and dental insurance groups after the 18 months provided by COBRA. Teachers who retire early can stay in the life insurance group, but will pay for the entire insurance premium until they turn 65.


For PTO, employees who have or adopt a child can borrow up to 30 days, which will be paid back to the district in subsequent years at least four days per year. If the employee leaves the district before the days are paid back, the remaining days will be written off-meaning the employee has no further obligation to the district.

While she said the administrators and teachers deserve their salary boosts, Dawn Bult, an employee with the Mitchell School District, urged school board members to remember the classified staff members-custodians, paraprofessionals, etc.-as well. She said things like health insurance and dental insurance costs are rising for them, too.

"Please keep that in mind for the paras, the other staff," Bult said.


Board members also got a glimpse at a preliminary budget for grades K-14 for the 2016-17 school year. Steve Culhane, business manager for the Mitchell School District, walked the board through a preview of the budget, which shows a general fund balance of $18,564,128 for the 2016-17 school year. That's an increase of about $1.5 million from the 2015-16 general fund budget of $17,053,559, which Culhane said already includes projected salary increases and a 10 percent increase on health insurance and an increase on dental insurance.

The preliminary budget estimates the bulk of that, $11.9 million, will go toward instructional programs. About $5.65 million is estimated toward support services, while just under $110,000 is estimated toward community services. The estimated general fund budget rounds out with $4,000 expected toward unemployment, and $830,606 toward co-curricular activities.

Some of the other estimates include the capital outlay budget for 2016-17 at $3.95 million, and the special education budget for 2016-17 is proposed at $4.2 million. The pension fund balance is listed as $1.47 million.

The food service budget is proposed at $1.5 million, but Culhane said it will need to be adjusted since Mitchell Christian School has opted not to use the district's food service for the upcoming year. He said Carmody has been working to find new ways to save money for the district.

The driver's education fund is projected at $22,905. The MCTEA budget for programs in the building is estimated at $472,483, and the MCTEA budget for CTE transportation is proposed at $70,798.

Though the budget is still preliminary and board members took no action, Culhane said he thinks the district is in a good spot.

"We've identified most things for this budget. So I think we have a pretty good feel of where we're going to be for the upcoming school year," Culhane said during a break.

Mitchell Technical Institute President Mark Wilson and Jared Hofer, the new dean of fiscal operations, also gave board members an overview of MTI's preliminary budget.

Robots and art collide

School board members congratulated MHS art teacher Marica Shannon, who was recently awarded a $10,000 Toshiba America Foundation grant. Shannon said she will use the $10,000 grant to introduce students to robots. Students will then create the "art bots," robots built as a small group project she said will become the armature for a kinetic sculpture. After each group builds its robot, they will come together for a design challenge.

Shannon said that challenge will incorporate sound effects and camera recordings into a final product they will share with classmates and parents through formats like YouTube.

Individually, Shannon said students will study the movement of the art bot to design their toys using a 3-D printer.

It's exciting, Shannon said, because the equipment will be useful across different classes and curriculums.

"It's going to be quite useful," she said.


As part of a consent agenda that includes board minutes, claims and open enrollment, the board approved the following personnel items:

• New hire (certified): Hannah Harbour, rescind part time contract with Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and approve full-time contract with Longfellow Elementary at $36,000 plus pending increase, effective 2016-17 school year; Bobbi Brink, speech language pathologist at early childhood at $52,000 plus 20 extra days, effective 2016-17 school year; and Megan Hart, begindergarten at Gertie Belle Rogers, FTE .5 at $18,000 plus pending increase, effective 2016-17 school year.

• Resignation: Geoff Gross, activities director, effective June 30; and Mary Schimke, ECH paraprofessional, effective end of 2015-16 school year.

• MTI new hire: Carena Jarding, LPN director at $55,000, effective July 1.

• MTI summer adjunct instructor, Annika Russell, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $1,785, effective May 16; Julie Gross, summer adjunct instructor at $1,785, effective May 16; H. Jean Starr, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $1,785, effective May 16; Julie Hart-Schutte, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $1,785, effective May 16; Shirlyce Weisser, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $3,570, effective May 16; Connie Kerns, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $2,380, effective May 16; Devon Russell, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $1,190, effective May 9; and Dezarae Fenski, summer 2016 adjunct instructor at $1,785, effective May 16.

• MTI resignation: Dezarae Fenski, instructor, effective May 11.

Other business

In other regularly scheduled business, the board:

• Recognized students who qualified for the national contests in FFA, Future Business Leaders of America and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. Members of the Mitchell FFA Veterinary Science CDE team placed first in the state competition, and will attend the National FFA Convention in October. Two FCCLA students will go to nationals, and of the 11 FBLA students who qualified for nationals, four plan to attend the contest.

• Approved changes to the Mitchell Middle School handbook. The changes expand on the school's policies regarding electronics and personal water bottles in the classroom. The changes add internet capable watches to the list of personal electronics students are prohibited from using during the school day, and required that personal water bottles in classrooms (if allowed by the teacher) must be transparent containers.

• Approved submissions for official election ballots to the South Dakota High School Activities Association for a Division IV representative to the association and an amendment to the association's constitution/bylaws. There are two candidates for the Division IV representative, who will serve a five-year term on the SDHSAA Board of Directors if elected. The candidates are Kelly Messmer, of Harding County High School, and Jim Aisenbrey, of Baltic High School. Activities Director Geoff Gross recommended Aisenbrey. The ballot amendment, if approved, would clarify language to only allow member school to appeal a student's eligibility.

• Held an executive session, at the request of Graves, to discuss personnel items.

• Heard reports from school board members and the superintendent, and provided time for public commentary.

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