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Raises for JPS employees

Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.
Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.

Teachers, administrators, central office administrators and the superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools all saw salary increases in 2019, with the average raise being approximately 2%.

Superintendent Robert Lech accepted a contract offered by the Jamestown Public School Board on Nov. 4, along with central office administrators Sally Ost, business manager; Shelley Mack, food service director; and Joe Hegland, curriculum director. The central office administrators saw a consistent 2% raise, ranging from $1,241 to $2,200.

Lech's contract is for three years and will increase his salary from $157,993 to $182,880.40 by the 2021-22 school year, for a 14% total increase throughout the contract. Lech said for the 2017-18 school year, when his salary was $147,993.30, he declined a pay raise due to the financial climate and challenging budget and was given a $10,000 raise for the school board recognizing his completion of a doctorate program the following year.

According to statistics provided by Ost to The Sun, Lech's salary for the 2018-19 school year ranked 11 out of 11 schools with the largest enrollments in the state. In order from lowest to highest paid superintendents: Jamestown ($157,993), Devils Lake ($174,330), Valley City ($178,046), Mandan ($184,950), Bismarck ($190,000), Grand Forks ($195,000), West Fargo ($198,374), Fargo ($200,000), Minot ($209,620), Dickinson ($210,000) and Williston ($216,800).

As for Jamestown's central office administrations, the 2% raises bring their salaries to $63,294.94 (Hegland), $70,796.49 (Mack) and $112,200 (Ost).

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On Sept. 4, The Sun reported on the school board and school administrators agreeing to a two-year contract that included a 2% total increase in salaries, which ranged from $1,851 to $5,006. School administrators include principals and directors, a total of eight positions.

For the second year of the contract, the administrators will see a total of 5% increases across the board.

The school board studied salaries in other school districts to use as a comparison for administration in Jamestown. Jennifer Schmidt, school board president, said the board uses Valley City, Mandan, Devils Lake and Wahpeton for administrative comparisons, while Fargo is used to analyze teaching wages.

According to Ost's data, out of the five school districts, Jamestown's elementary school principal salary ranks second-lowest at $102,570, the middle school and high school principals rank third-lowest at $108,884 and $122,491 respectively, and the activities director ranks fourth at $99,820.

"We want comparable and competitive salaries for our staff," Schmidt said, after the contract negotiation on Sept. 4. "Our goal is to attract quality staff to our school district with competitive wages and salaries."

"With administrators, there's no apples to apples," said Luke Anderson, principal of Gussner Elementary School. "Across the state, all districts do things differently."

As for the teachers, more negotiation sessions were necessary between the school board and Jamestown Education Association, a union representing Jamestown teachers. Negotiations between the two parties began in May, meeting nearly a dozen times before the school board declared impasse.

The impasse lasted six days before JEA representatives organized another negotiation session, where the two parties agreed to a two-year contract on Sept. 23. This included $800 salary increases for the 2019-20 school year and a $1,300 increase for the second year. In the accepted contract offer, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $43,817 in the first year.

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JEA also negotiated a career increment, so a teacher at the maximum salary gets a portion of the negotiated increase. Ost said for the 2019-20 school year, the career increment is $600.

Both parties agreed that a newly hired teacher in the district cannot be paid more than a returning teacher with similar experience. A newly hired teacher in the district can bring in a maximum of 10 years of experience outside of Jamestown Public Schools to count toward the salary schedule.

Before the impasse was declared on Sept. 17, Schmidt provided JEA with several comparisons of Jamestown teacher salaries to others throughout the state from a North Dakota United online report. According to the report, Jamestown teachers rank 13th in the state for base salary out of a possible 65 schools (several have identical base salaries) and 11th in the state for maximum salary out of a possible 119.

The report says 100 of the district's 184 teachers last year made a salary of $60,000 or greater.

According to documents provided by the school board, in comparison to larger schools in the region, including Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Mandan and West Fargo, out of 21 salary steps, Jamestown teachers had an average rank of 2.81 out of six schools, trailing only Bismarck as the highest average salary.

The 21 steps include base salary through 25 years experience with educational incentives for obtaining additional degrees throughout one's career. Jamestown teacher's ranked the highest salary in six of the 21 categories.

"The goal isn't to catch up to them (other districts)," Schmidt said. "We're just working toward having competitive wages in Jamestown."

In the same documents, in comparison to smaller districts, which includes Carrington, Central Cass, Devils Lake, Grafton and Valley City, Jamestown teacher's average rank was 2.48 out of the six schools, second behind only Valley City. Jamestown teachers ranked the highest in two of the categories and ranked second highest in 15 of the 21 categories.

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"We have it quite good in Jamestown; we're aware of that," Danielle Giesler, lead negotiator for JEA, said on Sept. 23, as reported by The Sun.

Non-teaching professionals also received an increase of 3% to salaries, which includes six positions. The positions are speech path assistant, student information systems coordinator, network technician, a social worker in the middle school, a social worker in the high school and the assistant business manager.

Another "important group" of the education system in the Jamestown district received raises, according to Schmidt. In June, the school board raised wages for support staff across the district by $1 an hour, or $1.50 for a staff member with over 11 years of experience.

Support staff includes teacher aides, custodians and cafeteria cooks.

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