BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – In a move to help equalize some contract issues, the Fort Madison school district amended Superintendent Erin Slater’s contract Tuesday for the second year in a row.
At its regular Fort Madison School Board meeting, the board approved, 5-0, to modify Slater’s contract, purchasing seven days vacation at $2,000 per day for a total of $14,000.
The move, which occurred in the first year of Slater’s contract, as well, is part of a correction being done due to communication breakdowns that occurred between Slater, the district, and G. Tryon and Associates, the search firm the district used in locating and hiring Slater.
According to district Business Manager Sandy Elmore, Slater’s initial contract in 2016-17 was for $170,000. The district increased that contract by $18,000 for total compensation of $188,000 by purchasing 15 vacation days at $1,200 per day, leaving her with two weeks vacation the first year of the contract. Her 2017-18 compensation started at $178,000 and with Tuesday’s modification, Slater will make $192,000.
According to the original contracts, the district stood to pay Slater $348,000 the first two years, but with the modifications factored in, will pay her $380,000 for an 8.5% increase over the contracted amounts – in lieu of 22 days of lost vacation over the same time frame. That would amount to $1,454 for each day of vacation purchased on average.
The original contract included 25 vacation days, or five work weeks. The purchase of vacation days would leave her with 18 vacation days in her 12-month contract this year.
Board President Timm Lamb said there was no formula used to come up with the $2,000 per day figure this year.
“There was no formula there, it was just a figure we worked out with Erin and the district’s lawyer and the board. If we didn’t do something like that, she’d be 15 to 20,000 less than a superintendent of a district this size would get. We were not trying to hide anything from anyone,” he said.
Lamb said there was no disagreement among the board as to the modification or amounts approved.
“There was no disagreement with anyone on the board,” he said. “We all looked at this agreement over the last two months.. We came to this conclusion in June and approved it last night.”
He said the issue surfaced when Slater realized at the start of her contract, Iowa’s heavier payroll deductions, including retirement, Social Security taxes, and Iowa state taxes.
“In Illinois they don’t pay Social Security and retirement – it’s one or the other and our IPERS is different from her (Teacher Retirement System) in Illinois. When that was figured in, it dropped the salary. This was not taken into account with the first contract and there was more taken out of her check than what she thought would be taken out,” Lamb said.
Board member Dianne Hope referred the question back to Lamb but said she was on board with the decision.
“I’m aware of what happened and I support it,” she said.
Slater said it was an oversight by the search firm and this was a correction that the board made.
“Once the mistake was discovered, rather than saying here’s extra to make up for the salary I just forfeited the vacation days. We just did that early,” Slater said. “They did less for this contract and are taking a long view on correcting the mistake.”
Slater said the first piece of the oversight was the increased state tax rate in Iowa compared to Illinois and she said that was not pointed out to the board or her by Tryon. The second piece of the correction was due to Illinois not deducting for Social Security.
“Iowa debits for both (Iowa Public Employees Retirement System and Social Security). They did not inform the board or let me know that those differences were in place.”
She said when the board set the salary during negotiations, things were not always equal, but they were comparable. She said the total increase from last year to this contract year is 2.1%.
“The board and attorney were trying to come up with a fair way to rectify this oversight by the search committee to inform the board about the differences,” she said.
Board member Carol Ross also agreed with the modification citing the differences in net pay for Illinois and Iowa education officials.
“Illinois does not take money out of school administrators’ paychecks like we do in Iowa for retirement. Probably part of the reason Illinois is in such dire financial straights,” Ross said.
“Their income tax rates are also significantly lower, although they did recently increase them. But they are still much lower than ours. Also in Illinois, I’m not sure about teachers, but administrators there do not participate in social security either. All of these have a significant impact on net pay.”