North Branch School Board  agonize over coaches’ salaries

To pay, or not to pay? - That is the question presented to the North Branch School Board regarding the salaries of their spring sports coaches. And even after an over one-hour discussion filled with multiple questions and a total of three motions that were voted down, the board didn’t completely answer the question.

Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton presented the board with the question as a last-minute addition to the agenda. She explained the standard procedure was for the district to pay their coaches’ salaries in two installments - one at the beginning of their season and one after the season was completed. For the spring sports coaches, since the original starting dates had initially been postponed and coaches were still remotely working with their players, the district had already paid the first installment of their contracts.

Since that time, however, the entire season was canceled by the Minnesota State High School League and it is believed the level of communication from the coaches to their players decreased. Given that, Henton asked the school board to make a decision regarding if coaches should be paid the second half of their contracts, and if so, should it be the full amount or a partial amount?

Complicating the question further, Finance Director Dr. Todd Tetzlaff informed the board that revenue for a good portion of the coaches’ salaries is generated from student activity fees. Since all activity fees for spring sports were refunded, there wasn’t enough money in the Activities Department budget to cover the second half of everyone’s salaries, meaning the district would have to transfer money from the general fund. Tetzlaff said that amount would be $50,225.

The crux of the debate within the school board was whether the coaches had “earned” their full salary or if what they were paid at the beginning of the season was enough compensation for the work performed by the coaches before the season was canceled. The board also wrestled with the concept that they fully support and appreciate the work put in by the coaches in general, and it’s not the coaches’ fault their season was canceled, but at the same time, the board had to consider the affects it would have on their overall budget.

“My normal inclination would be to say ‘it’s not their fault, they set aside the time, it’s in their budget, it’s not really fair to penalize coaches because of something that they have no control over,’” said board member Heather Osagiede. “However, we are also in the situation where there is an incredible number of expenses having to do with all of this that we were not prepared for. And I’m very concerned what the consequences would be budgetarily going into next year.”

Dr. Tetzlaff told the board the district had reached out to other schools within the Mississippi 8 conference to see how they were paying their coaches. He said their responses “were all across the board” from paying coaches 100% of their salary, to paying head coaches a percentage of their salaries and others (such as assistant or Middle School coaches) a smaller percentage, all the way down to no pay to any coaches.

Board member Tim MacMillan offered up a compromise where coaches were paid something like half of their second half pay. He suggested that may offset the revenue shortfall so that it wouldn’t have to come as much out of the general fund.

“I know a lot of our coaches are teachers as well,” MacMillan said. “I would hate to see the cost of this potentially take away another teacher’s salary at some point and make class sizes bigger.”

In the midst of the discussion, a motion to pay the coaches 25% of their remaining pay failed on a 2-3 vote; a motion to not pay any additional money, but to consider paying them sometime in the future should funding become available failed 1-4; and a motion to pay them their full amount failed on a 2-3 vote. Finally, a motion to not pay them any additional money, and to instruct staff to collect additional information about different funding options in time for their June meeting passed on a 3-2 vote.

Dr. Henton explained to the board that with this vote, they could make a motion at their June meeting to rescind this vote if funding options were discovered. They would then make a motion to pay the coaches part or all of their unpaid salary.

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