In the absence of two members, the Brainerd School Board voted 3-1 to approve a reduced compensation and benefits package for its members during its bimonthly meeting Monday, Nov. 25.
The school district did not provide documents of what the current benefits package entailed, nor that of the new version ratified Monday. Superintendent Laine Larson did not respond to requests for clarification by deadline Monday night. Per comments by members, board members were paid $350 per month and received health care and dental coverage.
While the board voted to downsize the package, board member Charles Black Lance expressed misgivings at any sort of compensation and benefits. Black Lance said he could not justify a benefits package in good conscience while the district faces budget cuts and students are withheld from academic or extracurricular activities on account of budgetary shortages.
“I’ll be very honest. When I ran for school board over the number of years that I have, I did so without any understanding of a — quote unquote — benefit that I would receive from that,” Black Lance said. “I struggle in a mighty way receiving any type of benefit for a position. I simply ran for serving our community and to serve our students. Especially, if there’s a risk to pay for our teachers, or activities or opportunities for our children.”
“I have a hard time taking any benefit as a board member that, down the road, could take away an opportunity for a child in our school district,” he added. “I understand that may have been how it was done in the past, but I’d love the board to reconsider this or to even table this until we can have the members of the full board and have a robust discussion of this.”
Black Lance was referencing the fact two board members, Reed Campbell and Bob Nystrom, were absent from Monday’s proceedings.
In a letter to the board, Nystrom apologized for being unable to attend due to family matters, but encouraged his colleagues to go through with the resolution to reduce the benefits package for board members.
“‘I support this change because it will save the district money,’” Nystrom’s letter stated, according to Board President Sue Kern. “‘It will also communicate to our employee groups that we take a cut in compensation for the betterment of the district.’”
Nystrom noted the current monthly stipend for board members — $350 per month — has not been changed in 33 years. Kern noted she was not aware of the benefits package when she originally ran for the board in 2012. Black Lance was elected November last year.
In turn, Black Lance speculated if some sort of middle ground could be found, where a monthly stipend is retained, but health care and dental benefits would be removed altogether. Board member Ruth Nelson said the resolution was cautious in nature, as the intention was to avoid rushing into slashing benefits that some board members may depend on.
“With all due respect,” Black Lance replied. “We don’t extend that consideration to our students.”