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School board member questions superintendent retirement benefits

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The Grand Forks School Board's decision at its Monday meeting to accept Superintendent Larry Nybladh's request for early retirement will cost the district about $143,000, spread over the four years following his retirement on June 30.

Board member Meggen Sande cast the sole vote against approving the early retirement package, citing a need for more discussion, in light of the difficult financial situation the school district faces.

With the approval of his early retirement application, Nybladh will receive early benefits totaling $143,423, to be paid out over four years, or $35,855 per year.

At Monday's board meeting, President Doug Carpenter said Nybladh approached him a year ago about his interest in retiring and he, Carpenter, convinced the superintendent to delay his retirement for a year.

"(Nybladh) was going to retire the year before without (early retirement package)," Sande said when reached by phone Friday.

"We're in a financial situation right now that I don't think it's fiscally responsible for us to give him early retirement," she said. "I was disappointed that there was no discussion at the board. ... I'm actually quite concerned that it was approved with such little thought."

The board is not obligated to grant Nybladh's request for early retirement, according to its policy document, and that benefit is not part of his contract, she said.

"It's really disappointing that we would so easily hand over $143,000," Sande said.

Nybladh, 61, whose annual salary is $231,210, has submitted his resignation effective June 30, 2018.

Upon his resignation, he will also receive payments for unused sick leave and vacation time totaling $103,000, minus any time he uses in those categories between now and June 30. Sande said that benefit is part of Nybladh's contract, so it is "non-negotiable."

The early retirement benefit, though, represents "a lot of money," she said.

At Monday's board meeting, she moved for the resignation and the early retirement application, a single agenda item, to be split and discussed as separate issues, but that motion failed by a six-to-two vote.

"There was no support for the conversation," she said.

Two members expressed, at Monday's meeting, that they did not have enough time or enough information to feel comfortable about voting on the early retirement question, Sande said.

Carpenter told board members Monday, "I convinced him to stay on one more year" because of pending teacher contract negotiations and the 2017 legislative session, he said.

By agreeing to work through June, Nybladh's years of service will total 10, which qualifies him to request early retirement.

When Nybladh first approached him about retiring, Carpenter said Friday that he did not consider the financial implications of another year of service.

He encouraged Nybladh not to retire "because we had the legislative session coming up," he said. "We knew we were going to have financial funding issues, most likely, from the state and so, I thought it was, from my opinion, most appropriate to continue to have his knowledge and experience present during that process."

The issue of early retirement "never came up in our conversation," Carpenter said. "And, to be honest with you, I didn't even think about the fact that he'd be eligible or not be eligible in a year."

Carpenter said he was focused on "the needs of the district at the time and what I thought was best for the district."

Regarding to Monday's meeting, he said, "My position would be, when we're considering one specific application, it's not really the time or place to discuss the policy as a whole, and whether it should or should not apply."

The policy regarding early retirement should, and probably will, be reviewed before the next superintendent is hired, he said.

Carpenter agrees that Nybladh's early retirement payment "is a significant amount of money (but) the intent of the program is that we will replace the position at a lower salary and that it's not going to cost us more and could cost us less."

He is optimistic that, in hiring a new superintendent, the board will "break even, or save money, unless the will of the board and the community is that we find someone with experience that would demand (a higher salary)."

Sande isn't so sure.

"I don't know that we can hire somebody for a salary that would make (Nybladh's) early retirement even break even for the district," she said.

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