Our view: Good for board member to speak up
Give credit to Meggen Sande, who asked some difficult questions during a recent meeting of the Grand Forks School Board.
Superintendent Larry Nybladh has announced his retirement, effective in June 2018. Nybladh has been with the district since 2008 and was named state Superintendent of the Year in 2014. At 61 years old, he told the board that "the time is right for my family and me for this decision."
Nybladh's early retirement package will be about $143,000, spread out in four-year installments of approximately $35,000.
He also will receive $103,000 in lieu of unused vacation and sick leave — minus any time he uses between now and then. This payment is in the superintendent's contract and thus non-negotiable.
However, the early retirement request should have been discussed in-depth before the board gave its approval. It's the board's prerogative to grant early retirement, and according to district policy, "the school board may not be able to approve all requests because of the availability of funds, excessive number of requests or other reasonable factors."
Sande urged, without avail, for more conversation on the issue.
The only way the district can come out even is if the next superintendent is paid $35,000 per year less than Nybladh's annual salary of $231,210.
"We're in a financial situation right now that I don't think it's fiscally responsible for us to give him early retirement," Sande told the Herald after the meeting. "I was disappointed that there was no discussion of this at the board. ... I'm actually quite concerned that it was approved with such little thought."
Compounding Sande's frustration is the fact that Nybladh approached School Board President Doug Carpenter a year ago and said he was considering retiring at that time. Carpenter told the board that he urged Nybladh to stay one more year. Had Nybladh retired last year when he first discussed it, the district could have avoided paying a bonus, since he wouldn't have been on staff the requisite 10 years.
Carpenter, during the board meeting, noted that he urged Nybladh to stay on because of pending teacher salary negotiations and the looming biennial legislative session. Carpenter said he didn't realize the extra year would cost the district so much in the end. We believe him, but we also believe he should have discussed it with the board.
It's important to note that we don't begrudge Nybladh for his interest in early retirement, or even for receiving the full benefits package. This isn't about Nybladh; it's about the process leading to today, and processes going forward.
It's hard to rationalize this when earlier this year, the board told teachers there is no money for raises. Of course, bulk teacher raises amount to much more than $35,000 per year, but board members must be cognizant of how their decisions will affect morale as much as the bottom line.
"We are paid to question," Sande told other board members during last week's meeting.
She's right, and we're glad she spoke up.