Kasson-Mantorville teacher, parent speak out about pay

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(ABC 6 News) – “We’re hurting. We’re struggling and we need help. And we need help fast,” said Katie Wohlfiel, a teacher who has worked at Kasson-Mantorville Middle School for seven years.

“I’m worried about the future of education,” she continued.

Wohlfiel says she loves Kasson and has her children going to school in the district. But dismal salary and unaffordable health insurance are driving her and her fellow teachers away.

“We have this awesome community and my family does not want to leave. We want to have our boys come through here. This is taking me down to a $2,100 monthly take-home. And when I have childcare that costs $2,500 it’s impossible to stay afloat,” Wohlfiel continued.

Something Laura Gearhart, a parent in the district, says she’s deeply concerned about.

“We have declining enrollment with our students, and if we’re not providing competitive pay for our teachers our enrollment numbers are going to continue to decline,” Gearhart said. “I want my children to have the best possible teachers in the area. And our teachers will be the best possible teachers that they can be when they are paid a living and healthy wage.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the average annual salary for Kasson-Mantorville teachers is around $60,012. That’s about $7,000 lower than the state average of $67,412.

But Kasson-Mantorville schools face a unique challenge. According to Superintendent Mark Matuska, K-M receives the lowest amount of money per student from the state. That number sits just under $7,000.

“Salaries truly have been stagnant compared to a lot of different places throughout the United States and even the Midwest,” Matuska said.

But as the superintendent and school board say they’re looking for ways to save money, some parents have become critical over a section of Superintendent Matuska’s contract called “Performance-based incentives.”

For each contract year, Matuska can receive up to 10 percent of his nearly $200,000 salary as a bonus for doing around 1 to 3 projects the school board deems “above and beyond.”

For his 2023-2026 contract – that means Matuska can earn an additional $54,000.

“It’s frustrating to say: ‘We’re gonna give you this money but we haven’t decided what you have to do to get it yet.’ That certainly lacks some transparency in that case. That’s a lot of money in performance pay in my opinion,” Gearhart said.

This year, Matuska’s performance projects included preparing the 2023-2024 budget and overseeing updates to the district’s H-VAC system.

Gearhart says she doesn’t consider some of Matuska’s projects, like balancing the budget, “above and beyond.”

Matuska says his office pours hours and hours of work into the performance projects, and he provides full presentations of his work at public school board meetings. Adding that the school board has always fully supported the performance projects.

“In my 12 years here, every single one has been unanimous as to what the project would be. So I work together with the board,” Matuska said of the projects.

Matuska presented his projects at a May 1 school board meeting.

“It was a whole lot of work putting this project together,” Matuska said.

Several other school districts in Southeast Minnesota such as Rochester Public SchoolsByron Public Schools, and Albert Lea Area Schools do not have performance projects written into their superintendent contracts.

Overall, Gearhart and Wohlfiel are both asking the district for more communication and transparency as teachers enter contract negotiations.

“Open up that discussion to our local taxpayers and maybe have them reach out to school board members, or them reach out to our lawmakers, to help make sure that it’s not just teachers fighting for ourselves, it’s our community fighting for our teachers as well,” Wohlfiel said.

Kasson-Mantorville teachers’ current contract ends this year. Contract negotiations have just started for their 2023-2025 contract cycle.