Keeping our community informed
Clarifying recent publicly reported information
To clarify information that has been publicly reported, please see the following:
Posted Feb. 12, 2020, 7:23 a.m.
An important update from Interim Superintendent Pete Lesar
At the Feb. 11 Governing Board meeting, I shared information about the independent audit of the superintendent's executive team (SET) compensation.
The audit was initiated in early November 2019 after an employee expressed concerns to a board member about 2019-20 SET compensation. According to the board, the previous superintendent informed them the SET reorganization was budget- and position-neutral, with no increased cost to the district.
The Governing Board immediately moved to address cost concerns in multiple executive sessions, some of which included the previous superintendent. During this time, the board voted to place the previous superintendent on leave Nov. 18.
On Dec. 2, the previous superintendent resigned, and I was appointed interim superintendent. Soon thereafter, the board directed me to continue and expand the scope of the audit as part of the district's longstanding commitment to financial transparency.
After several executive sessions, the audit was made public at the Feb. 11 board meeting. It has three main conclusions:
1. Compensation for 10 members of the SET did not come before the board for approval.
2. The number of SET members increased from 13 to 15 between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
3. SET cost increased approximately $550,000 over the last fiscal year. The increased cost is a result of several factors:
- A 5% base salary increase to 13 SET members employed last year, totaling approximately $92,000, which was approved June 25, 2019.
- $5,000 increases in base salary for four members, approved June 11, 2019.
- The addition of two SET members at a cost of approximately $292,000.
- Base salary adjustments not yet approved by the board for SET members who were transferred or promoted, totaling approximately $140,000.
The board and district have implemented two safeguards to properly address these findings.
- All compensation and employment recommendations are posted in BoardDocs for review and approval by the board. Previously, compensation amounts were not included in employment recommendations to the board.
- The superintendent will meet with the board to outline any changes to SET organization and compensation, including a cost analysis, prior to approval.
The board takes seriously its responsibility to establish and approve fair and reasonable compensation consistent with duties and previous organizational decisions. The board directed me to bring forward a compensation recommendation for all 2019-20 SET base salary compensation not yet approved by the board.
Currently in progress is a recoupment plan for any compensation difference between what is being paid and what is now approved. This includes recommended adjustments to current SET compensation, leading to a recoupment of approximately $70,000 this fiscal year.
This work is not yet complete. The board and I will continue to review the organization of the superintendent's executive leadership team for the 2020-21 school year, including appropriate number of appointed positions, job responsibilities and compensation.
Thank you for your continued support,
Posted Dec. 13, 2019, 4:57 p.m.
Message from the Governing Board as shared by President Elaine Miner at the December 12 Governing Board meeting
During the last week of October, some concerns regarding salaries were brought to the attention of a member of the governing board. On October 29th, the board met in executive session with legal counsel. On November 13th, there was an executive session for the superintendent's evaluation where additional information was discussed. On November 18th, the board placed Dr. Conley on administrative leave at which time an internal audit was initiated to explore: 1) any costs associated with the reorganization of the district's leadership team, and 2) whether compensation increases for members of the superintendent's executive team had all been approved by the Board. The audit is in progress and the Governing Board will meet soon to discuss it.
As I have said before, the governing board will continue to share relevant information. But, there is information we are not permitted to share such as executive session discussions and similar confidential information. As stewards of this district, our priority is doing what is in the best interest of the district. This board works diligently to maintain the long-standing status of being financially responsible. The actions taken in the last few weeks demonstrate that there is responsible budget oversight and the timing around the Override election was not strategically planned. The due diligence of the board began without delay before the Override election, but could not be completed by the election given all the schedules and issues involved. The board was quick to act when a concern came to them.
Historically, the governing board has always placed classroom spending as a top priority. That has not changed. If you look at the Auditor General's report of March 2019 it shows that the percentage of funds for district and school administration is better than our peer districts. Having said that, I believe that it is important to share with you that we need good principals. They work hard, they manage more difficult issues than ever before. Parents rely on them to build a learning environment that meets their expectations. Strong district administrators are important as well. We have over 62,000 students and nearly 10,000 employees. We cannot run a district efficiently or effectively without wise and skilled administrators. In order to attract and retain the best administrators, teachers and support staff to serve our students in this competitive environment, we must pay a competitive salary. To achieve this goal, the district is constantly reviewing best practices and looking for efficiencies. As we review the audit we will evaluate the superintendent's executive team's current salaries. If they are beyond what has been board approved or otherwise inconsistent with the District's long-standing practices of determining salaries, we will address this issue.
During the meeting district leadership provided clarification on the Superintendent's Executive Team's compensation, budget carry forward and prepayments, and dollars in the classroom.
Posted Dec. 2, 2019, 10:12 p.m.
Board names interim superintendent
At the special board meeting on Monday, Dec. 2, the Governing Board accepted the resignation of Dr. Ember Conley and approved the appointment of Dr. Pete Lesar as the interim superintendent. Dr. Lesar steps into the role on Dec. 3. He retired in July after a 32-year career at Mesa Public Schools, which encompassed many roles, from teacher to associate superintendent.
Posted Nov. 24, 2019, 10:31 p.m., updated Nov. 25, 2019, 8:25 a.m.
Report of complaint submitted to Arizona Attorney General's Office
Any citizen may submit a complaint for review by the Attorney General. It is standard district procedure that due to the timing of the legislative budget process, contracts are issued and then adjusted based on the Board-approved compensation plan.
Employee contracts include the following language:
District shall pay Employee as salary for the Contract Year the greater of (i) the salary amount set forth above or (ii) the salary amount determined by District's 2019-20 Compensation Plan adopted by the Board ("Employee's Salary"). If there is a difference between the Salary stated above and the amount computed according to District's Compensation Plan, the Compensation Plan shall govern. On or before July 31, 2019, District shall confirm Employee's Salary in a notice issued to Employee. Any change to Employee's Assigned Position or Contract Year that affects Employee's Salary shall be confirmed in a Revised Contract signed by District and Employee.
Posted Nov. 22, 2019, updated 5 p.m.
Additional compensation for administrators
Additional compensation for some district-level leadership, which is in addition to base salary, has been a long-standing practice in Arizona school districts. In Mesa Public Schools, the Governing Board approved "The Superintendent’s Executive Team Members and Additional Compensation" for 2019-20 on June 11, 2019. This did not include approving the base salaries. The amount of this additional compensation remained the same as the previous two years. This annual additional compensation was also approved by the board members at that time on June 26, 2018 and July 11, 2017. The practice of providing this additional compensation goes back more than a decade.
General administration spending
The district exceeded its budgeted general administration costs in the 2018-19 school year. The primary reason for this increase was a prepayment of $719,987 for liability insurance for the 2019-20 school year. According to the Uniform System of Financial Records, or USFR, districts can prepay certain expenses such as health or liability insurance premiums if they have the funds available. This provides flexibility in future years should a budget adjustment be needed. The funds used for the prepayment were identified during the year-end budget reconciliation and were included in the final expenses reported in the Annual Financial Report (AFR) approved by the Governing Board on Oct. 14, 2019.
Timing of events
The Nov. 5, 2019, election to approve a Mesa Public Schools budget increase had no bearing on the timing of the Governing Board’s action to place Dr. Conley on administrative leave. These were two independent events.
Governing Board announces superintendent search
The Mesa Public Schools Governing Board has retained McPherson & Jacobson, LLC, to assist in their search for a new superintendent.
The board seeks input from community stakeholders as an important element of the search process. Parents, staff, students and members of the community are encouraged to participate in an anonymous online survey to share their thoughts about the state of the district and characteristics they would like to see in the next superintendent.
"Listening to and receiving input from our community is essential as we move forward with the search for our new Mesa Public Schools superintendent," says Governing Board President Elaine Miner. "The board prioritizes finding a leader who is student centered, collaborative, inclusive, community focused and committed to continuing the crucial work of implementing our robust strategic and master facilities plans. We value our partnerships with our community and encourage all stakeholders to make their voices heard."