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Grand Forks school board members grade their superintendent

The yes-or-no nature of Brenner’s evaluation belies the work board members put into it beforehand, a process that produces results that more closely resemble a graded class.

082720.N.GFH.Terry Brenner
Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Terry Brenner. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — The format of Superintendent Terry Brenner’s performance review might be familiar to some of the students at Grand Forks Public Schools: pass/fail.

There’s a more nuanced process beforehand, but North Dakota law ultimately requires school board members here to decide whether or not Brenner’s performance is “satisfactory” or not. A board subcommittee on Monday, March 7, agreed that it is, and they forwarded that decision onto a meeting of the board proper scheduled for Monday, March 14.

“This is my final evaluation, basically,” Brenner said Monday as he held up a one-page document, unsigned for the moment by district officials, declaring his performance satisfactory in all areas.

School boards across the state are required to conduct a superintendent evaluation before Nov. 15 each year and a second one before March 15. If they find any part of the superintendent’s performance to be “unsatisfactory” in any area of their job, then board members are legally required to detail their findings and make recommendations for improvement.

But the yes-or-no nature of Brenner’s evaluation belies the work board members put into it beforehand, a process that produces results that more closely resemble a graded class.

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Board members and their counterparts at Grand Forks Air Force Base board completed a 73-question survey that asks them to rate on a 1-4 scale how well Brenner ensures the district identifies students who need extra help, seeks input from district staff, bases recommended property tax rates on “actual needs,” and so on.

Those ratings fall into six categories: “goal and vision setting,” “board relations,” “curriculum and student support services,” “human resource management,” “ community relations,” and “operations and resource management.”

Totaling the ratings each board member gave Brenner within each category produces an overall score for each of those six categories.

In goal-setting, for instance, board members were asked to rate the superintendent on two items: how well he helps the board put together its strategic plan and how well he reports on the district’s progress toward its goals. Giving Brenner full marks for both produces a total score of eight — two fours on the 1-4 scale — out of eight possible points in that category. A “satisfactory” score there is 5 or greater.

A Herald analysis of board members’ reported ratings suggests that they are most impressed by Brenner’s board relations, which they collectively marked at 49.3 out of 52, and approve the least of his operations and resource management skills, for which they gave him an average of 47.8 out of 52 possible points.

The only Grand Forks Public Schools board member not to complete an evaluation of Brenner is Jackie Hassett, who missed the district-imposed deadline amid family and work obligations. She told the Herald on Tuesday that she would not have rated Brenner less than standard in any area.

Compensation hikes

But, beyond satisfying North Dakota Century Code, that rigamarole also ties to Brenner’s compensation from the district, which has stayed pat at $195,000 each year since he was hired in 2018. Subcommittee members agreed to tack another year onto Brenner’s “rolling” three-year contract, which extends that agreement through the 2024-2025 school year.

They also agreed that he receive raises next year and the one after that which equal the raises Grand Forks teachers bargained for this year and next . That means Brenner is set to get a raise of approximately 2.14% next year and 2.38% after that.

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Like the evaluation itself, the contract extension and the raises both need to be approved by the school board itself next week.

Subcommittee members on Monday noted that Brenner's pay hasn't increased in four years, and they flirted with much heftier pay hikes — $10,000 per year for the next three, for instance — before settling on the more modest figures.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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