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OUR VIEW: School Board could've saved face with better timing of pay raise

It shouldn't be any surprise that raising a top public administrator's pay amid an increasingly contentious employee contract dispute would be a recipe for public frustration. That appears to be exactly what is playing out after the South Washington County School Board approved 3.5-percent annual salary increases for Superintendent Keith Jacobus that cover the next two school years, even as the teachers' union contract remains unresolved some eight months after those negotiations started. He earns $186,100 this year; that will increase to $192,613 next year and $199,354 the following year.

The school board's vote was poorly timed. It fosters public ill will that for the most part could have been avoided.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath said the board was obligated to act on salary increases for Jacobus last December, but they agreed to wait on that decision because employee contracts were pending. (Actually, his contract says only next year's salary was to be determined by last December. A decision on the 2017-18 salary isn't required until Dec. 1, 2016.) Seven months later, the biggest employee contract still is unresolved. Yet the board apparently believed Jacobus' salary bumps had to be handled now.

Jacobus shouldn't be penalized because there isn't yet agreement with the teachers, Kath said.

That's certainly one perspective.

When leading a large school district you no doubt encounter critics — and we've been among them on some issues — but in general District 833 is headed in a positive direction. Jacobus deserves credit for that, as do district teachers and staff. Those employees received pay increases or, in the case of the teachers, are expected to receive increases in a new contract. Jacobus also deserves an increase.

But, again, the problem is timing. Approving salary increases for Jacobus when you're mired in a teachers' contract dispute looks bad and does nothing to build public support for the district. We'll save debate over teacher contract offer details for another day, but raising the superintendent's pay right now is a poke in the eye to some school employees and district residents.

To his credit, Jacobus requested a pay freeze for the school year that just ended. He recognized that the district he leads was cutting its general fund budget and was asking residents to pay more through a referendum. That was a wise move.

Looking for an alternative, if delayed, resolution to Jacobus' pay issue also would have been wise on the part of the school board.