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West Fargo School Board votes itself raise

Outgoing West Fargo School Board President Tom Gentzkow congratulates David Olson, Judy Kvaale, Karen Nitzkorski and Angela Korsmo after taking their Oath of Office on Monday night during the West Fargo School Board meeting at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo. Dave Samson/The Forum1 / 2
Duane Hanson listens to the agenda Monday night during the West Fargo School Board meeting at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo. Hanson will be leaving to serve on the West Fargo City Commission. Dave Samson/The Forum2 / 2

In a 6-1 vote Monday, the West Fargo School Board gave itself a $1,000 raise for a total annual salary of $4,000.

The raise, which is effective Thursday, was met with some opposition. Board member Angela Korsmo was the only "no" vote. A vocal opponent during the school board meeting June 14 when Ben Koppelman first brought up the notion of a raise, Korsmo didn't go into much detail Monday.

"You all know what I think," she said.

Board president Tom Gentzkow also called on the thoughts of incoming members David Olson and Judy Kvaale. The two were in the audience Monday after taking their Oaths of Office earlier in the eventing, and will sit on their first official board meeting July 12.

"With the path we're on right now, we should wait and show our patrons more success," Olson said. "We need to provide more results." He said the board should first tackle the tough issues, such as the possibility of another bond referendum, and then gauge a raise based on their future success or failure.

Kvaale was a bit more indecisive.

"It doesn't matter to me," she said. "I'm just happy to be on the board."

Koppelman dug up numbers to compare the West Fargo School Board to other government entities, specifically those in Fargo. In general, pay for West Fargo board members is roughly one-third that of Fargo, he said. West Fargo mayors also make about $11,000 a year, while Fargo mayors earn $28,000. Likewise, city commission salaries are more than $7,400 in West Fargo, while Fargo commissioners get about $22,000.

As far as education boards, the numbers also were mixed. Fargo board members earn $12,000 a year, while Moorhead school board members earn $8,400 a year and deal with less than 6,000 students. By comparison, West Fargo has 7,000 students district-wide. And the West Fargo School Board has to manage an annual budget of $80 million - about three times that of the city commission.

But Korsmo was not swayed by numbers.

"I don't think that, because someone makes more than us for doing the same thing is a good enough reason," she said.

Still, general consensus among the West Fargo School Board members was that a raise was warranted.

"We need to put a value on what we do," vice president Karen Nitzkorski said.

"Look at it as a time commitment alone, and a few thousand dollars isn't enough," member Duane Hanson said. "We've become accustomed in this state to think we should do this job for free."

The amount of the raise was a point of discussion, however. The board has a budget capable of effectively doubling members' salaries. Jumping from $3,000 to $6,000 a year was felt to be too much of a jump, however, and doing so would "tie the hands of future board members," Koppelman said.

Instead, the board decided on a $1,000 a year raise with the motion to bring up another raise in one year. At that time, it would be discussed if another dollar raise would be appropriate, or if a percentage-based raise comparable to that of teachers' raises would be more efficient.

During the last West Fargo School Board pay raise in 2006, the members compromised on a $2,000 increase. It had originally been suggested that a $5,000 raise was appropriate, but the board decided "the jump from $1,000 was too great," Gentzkow said.

On Monday, it was suggested that a higher salary would help draw interest from more qualified individuals in the community.

"I can't imagine sitting at this table with a higher caliber of people than we have right now," Nitzkorski said.

End of an era

At the beginning of Monday's meeting, Hanson and Gentzkow were honored for their many years of service on the board.

Each received a table-top globe, but also was given gifts with a bit more sentimental value.

Gentzkow, who has been on the board for 10 years, was given a plastic toy bus because, Nitzkorski said, "this is the last time I'm going to throw you under the bus."

Hanson, who has been with the school board for 11 years and soon will take a seat as one of the newly-elected West Fargo city commissioners, received a set of toy keys.

"They're the keys to the city... and to our hearts," Nitzkorski said.

Gentzkow led as president through some recent tough times, she said.

"A lot of times, people don't realize what it takes to be in those shoes," Nitzkorski said. "Tom has carried a heavy load. ... We are where we are today because of him."

Odds and ends

• Summer construction will begin shortly at West Fargo High School. Bidders were approved Monday to refinish the gymnasium floor, and to replace the high school fire alarm system. FLR Sanders out of Princeton, Minn., was the low bidder to sand the floors at $25,400. They were also approved for an additional $2,000 to paint lines and refinish the badminton courts. The Dakota Electric Construction Company of Fargo will replace the fire alarm system for $46,000. It was decided that the old system would have to be completely removed in order to allow the possibility of adding on in the future.

• Besides Kvaale and Olson, re-elected school board members Korsmo and Nitzkorski also took oaths of office Monday. During the next school board meeting July 12, a new president and vice president will be elected.