As expected, we’re being deluged by information about why we should approve the increased school levy. Clearly, we were not “educated” when we voted in 2020. Here’s more information to educate us.
The school district’s financing problem is due to high expenses from salaries and benefits, not revenue shortages. An across-the-board cut of about 4.4% would completely eliminate the need for any other cuts to staff or activities.
In 2020, 80% of the school’s general fund expenses went to salaries and benefits amounting to $57.6 million. Wages and benefits are public information and can be found at www.bemidji.k12.mn.us. Click on “District,” then “Human Resources,” then “Employee Agreements.” See for yourself the pay and benefits paid to teachers and administration.
Here are a few highlights. The superintendent has a salary of $170,000. By contrast, Gov. Tim Walz is paid $127,629. The superintendent also gets a $400,000 life insurance policy and health insurance premiums up to $1,760 per month. I don’t doubt this job is challenging but is it more so than the governors? Seems he could pay his own life insurance premiums.
The average household income in Beltrami County is about $39,000 and that includes the entire household. By contrast, a teacher's “starting” wage is about $41,000 and can grow to $80,000. This is for nine months of work as they get the summers off in addition to winter and spring breaks, two personal days and 12 sick days each year.
They also have a great benefits package including contribution matches to the TRA pension and a 403(b) plan that equate to about 10%. Do you get a 10% match to your employee retirement plan?
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The superintendent will state these salaries are under union contracts and can’t be adjusted. His own contract and the teachers’ contracts all expired on June 30, 2021. They knew they had budget issues before any new contracts for the coming year were completed so could have addressed this.
Why is the existing $180 per student levy contract with the community not just as important? I support teachers and administration receiving a fair salary and benefits package, but things have gotten way out of line. It’s time for the Bemidji School District to control its expenses. Vote “no,” let the district straighten out their expenses, then we can reconsider future levies once the current $180 levy expires.