The Cloquet School Board approved a new three-year contract for Superintendent Michael Cary during the regular meeting Monday, Sept. 28. The contract goes into effect July 1, 2021 and runs through June 30, 2024.

Cary's current annual salary is $145,299 per his original contract in 2018.

He said he accepted below-average pay for a superintendent when he signed the original contract at $140,000. He received the same annual pay increases as the teachers in the following years.

“We could not pay him what he asked due to his lack of experience," said Ted Lammi, board chairman.

Cary deferred his raise in the new contract until the teachers negotiate their raise in the spring. He will accept the same increase, if any, as the teachers.

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He said his salary should reflect the experience he accrued as superintendent for the district in the previous three years.

The negotiation committee discussed several options to bring Cary closer to his salary goal, said Duane Buytaert, school board and committee member.

"For being a guy with zero superintendent experience, he jumped into the job and took off," said Buytaert. "From the get-go he has done a good job and we are happy with his work."

Cary said he did his own salary analysis by comparing the salaries of superintendents in similar size school districts and geographic locations as Cloquet. The analysis he presented to the negotiating committee showed the average superintendent salary for the 2020-2021 school year was $160,661, or about $15,000 lower than his salary.

Instead of giving Cary a salary increase, Buytaert said the committee decided to offer him two annual stipends of $3,750 each. Cary will receive the stipends annually for the duration of the three-year contract.

"We decided to meet in the middle," Buytaert said. "This gets him closer to the average salary (in the analysis)."

One stipend is for his three years of experience as superintendent in the district, Cary said. The other stipend is for holding a doctorate in educational administration.

Teachers are paid according to both years of experience and level of education, said Buytaert, and the committee's actions with the stipends follow a similar vein.

Board member Dave Battaglia said he is concerned about the district’s finances for the coming year due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. He said he is worried that schools will receive less money from the state then they originally planned.

He stressed that he is not unhappy with the work Cary has done during his time with the district, but said he is not comfortable with adding stipends to the contract.

Other items of note in the contract include:

Cary will receive 28 days of vacation, up from 25; and he will get 12 paid holidays and an additional two floating holidays in the new contract. Cary's sick leave will stay at 13 days per school year, with a maximum accrual of 120 days.

His eligibility to participate in a tax-sheltered annuity plan where the district contributes $2,000 in matching funds will continue with the new contract.

The board voted 5-1 to approve the contract. Battaglia was the lone nay vote.