Bertrang chosen District 88 superintendent

NEW ULM – Jeff Bertrang, current superintendent/elementary principal at GFW Schools, is the School Board’s choice to replace District 88 Superintendent Harold Remme.

Remme is retiring at the end of this school year.

The School Board voted 6-0 Tuesday night to direct its negotiation team to begin contract talks with Bertrang. (The seventh board member, Jill Hulke, was absent.)

The board also agreed on the parameters of its offer to Bertrang.

The board is offering Bertrang a three-year contract, with a salary of $125,000 the first year; $126,250 the second year; and $127,500 the third year. The second and third-year salary numbers each represent an approximate 1 percent increase, mirroring deals recently signed with other employee groups in the school district.

The salary represents a step up from the salary paid to long-serving Superintendent Remme, currently about $107,400 per year.

This change has been made following advice from consultant Ed Waltman from the South Central Service Co-op, who, with colleague Butch Hanson, led the superintendent search.

Waltman noted that while New Ulm is the largest district in the South Central Conference, it has the lowest-salaried superintendent. (Remme, who has been with the district for 16 years, has in recent years volunteered for pay freezes to help ease budget concerns.)

Waltman pointed out that the superintendents of schools similar in size to New Ulm – Waseca, St. Peter and Fairmont – currently average $126,00 in salary per year.

The job market for superintendents is tight, and it is very hard to recruit and retain quality candidates, Waltman also told the board.

With its offer to Bertrang, the board is shifting to a more “boiler-plate” contract compared to Remme’s. In essence, the new contract shifts money away from fringe benefits in the Remme contract- such as a car allowance – and into salary. Because of that shift, in essence, the contract being offered to Bertrang costs the district somewhat less than the salary alone would suggest. It is $13,000 a year more expensive than Remme’s, estimates Waltman.

In another key provision, Bertrang, just like Remme, is being offered full payment of the premium for family health insurance.

The board, however, is taking care to protect itself from penalties under the Affordable Care Act, by stating that if this provision is found to be discriminatory, the district may elect to contribute the same dollar amount toward the premium as paid for other full-time employees. If that occurs, the money difference would be shifted into salary.

The proposed contract is for 261 days, with 20 days of annual paid vacation, 11 holidays and 18 days of sick leave.

The contract includes $200,000 in life insurance coverage, long-term disability insurance, and a match to the superintendent’s contribution to a tax-sheltered annuity of up to $2,000 a year.

Bertrang is on contract with GFW for next year, and he cannot negotiate, or accept another offer, until he is released from that contract, cautioned Waltman. The GFW school board is aware of the progress of his application in New Ulm, he added. The GFW contract can be dissolved by mutual agreement.

Bertrang’s selection followed a process that cut a field of 15 candidates down to six and subsequently to two. The other finalist, Jean Broadwater, Superintendent in Houston, went through her final interview Monday.

At various stages, the process, as directed by the two consultants, involved community engagement. First, the consultants used community input when developing a profile listing the desired attributes in a superintendent. The six semi-finalists were interviewed by both the school board and a community team. The community team filled in feedback forms that the school board consulted before selecting the two finalists. The finalists met with the current school principals and other administrators who also filled out feedback sheets for the board to review. Bertrang and Broadwater also addressed open public forums, and anyone present had a chance to discuss their candidacies with attending school board members.

During a phone conversation with Waltman, Bertrang expressed willingness to enter negotiations, contingent upon his release from his current contract.

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