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Grand Forks School Board members increase their pay after debate, several votes

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Grand Forks Public School Board members decided to give themselves a bump in pay, but not before several minutes of debate and multiple votes on how large the increase should be.

The board voted 7-2 to increase annual salaries for members from $3,500 to $4,000. The board did not increase pay for the president, who makes $4,000 a year.

A committee initially recommended increasing pay to $5,000 for board members and to $6,000 for the president, with some board members arguing the district has fallen behind other districts of similar size. Vice President Amber Flynn noted the low pay may discourage potential candidates from applying for board positions, adding boards members dedicate a lot of time to the job.

"I want all of the board members sitting around the table to be compensated appropriately for their time," she said.

A July report from the district compared the annual pay of School Board members in Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck, West Fargo and Minot. Grand Forks pays its board members the least among the districts—Fargo paid the most with an annual salary of $12,000, followed by West Fargo with $9,380, Bismarck with $9,000 and Minot with $7,200.

Closer to home, Grand Forks City Council members were paid almost $15,000 a year, while Grand Forks County commissioners were paid more than $18,000 a year plus the option of opting into a retirement plan. Park District members make $3,000 and get a free pass to Park District activities.

Board member Eric Lunn said he feels the timing isn't right to increase board member salary to $5,000 and to $6,000 for the president.

Board member Shannon Mikula said she appreciated the notion of raising pay to attract candidates, but said the position shouldn't be driven by money.

"It's certainly not what attracted me," Mikula said, adding she struggles to vote for increasing her pay "for something like this. It just doesn't sit well with me."

A spreadsheet presented to the board Monday shows how much time board members have dedicated to official meetings July 16 through Dec. 20. Board member Jackie Hoffarth logged the most time with almost 123 hours. Cynthia Shabb followed with almost 83 hours, Mikula had 78, Doug Carpenter had 71, Chris Douthit clocked in at 70, Flynn had 58, Lunn was at 38, Board President Bill Palmiscno had 32 and Matt Spivey attend 31 hours of meetings.

Lunn noted the timesheet did not include meeting preparation, speaking with constituents or working with district officials. The timesheets do include North Dakota School Board Association events in Bismarck, which also include travel time.

Some board members did not attend those Bismarck meetings, so that could skew the timesheets, Lunn said.

Flynn said she did not run for the office because of the pay.

"It really is something I care about doing, and I think it will impact my children and have a better path for them moving forward and for other people in the district," she said, but noted she is taking time away from her life when she attends meetings or speaks to stakeholders.

Mikula said she understood how much work and time board members dedicate to the job, but she would rather see the funds used for other needs.

Two motions failed 4-5. One would have increased annual pay to $4,000 for board members and $5,000 for the president. The second motion would have increased salaries to $5,000 and $6,000, respectively.

The pay is retroactive to July 1, meaning board members will receive back pay.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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