City directors pursue master’s degrees
By Angie Landsverk
Justin Berrens is not the only city of Waupaca department head seeking a master’s degree.
Aaron Jenson is as well.
Both are beginning to pursue their degrees this academic semester.
Jenson, Waupaca’s parks and recreation director, is seeking a master’s degree in public administration through the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The program is structured for someone who works full time.
Classes are held on Saturdays throughout the semester.
“It’s a great opportunity for the city, a great opportunity for Aaron. He’s at an age where it will be extremely beneficial for him and his career development,” City Administrator Henry Veleker told the council last month.
Jenson became the city’s recreation program supervisor in 2011 and the parks and recreation director two years later.
He has a degree in recreation management from UW-La Crosse.
“My goal in earning an MPA is to gain a greater knowledge base that will directly relate to my current position and help me perform my job at a higher level,” Jenson wrote in a memo to Veleker.
While the city’s current tuition reimbursement policy allows for 100 percent tuition reimbursement, Jenson requested 50 percent tuition reimbursement.
He requested 50 percent reimbursement as he plans to absorb the cost in the Parks and Recreation Department’s operational budget.
“I’m trying to be sensitive to the budget,” he told the council.
Jenson plans for an annual budget impact of $2,916 to reflect the cost of completing the 36-credit program in three years.
If necessary, he will stretch the plan over four years, which would amount to $2,225 annually.
The common council voted 8-1 to reimburse him 50 percent of his tuition costs for courses when he receives a grade higher than a C.
Alan Kjelland voted no, and Paul Hagen was absent.
“I think we have to put consistency in place,” Kjelland said. “I’d like us to be consistent with what we did with Justin.”
Berrens, the city’s director of public works, is seeking a master’s degree in environmental engineering via UW-Madison’s online program.
The program is 100 percent online and may also be pursued while working full time.
Berrens became the city’s director of public works on Sept. 1, 2015.
He has a degree in geology from Lawrence University and was encouraged to pursue a principal engineering certification.
Last May, the common council voted to reimburse Berrens the cost of tuition.
The city will reimburse him 100 percent of his tuition costs for courses when he receives an A in them, 75 percent of the cost when he receives a B and nothing if he receives a grade of C or less.
The tuition cost is currently $1,300 per credit and will be almost $40,000 over a three-year period.
There will be no impact on this year’s city budget.
He also agrees to remain employed with the city for five years beyond his anticipated graduation date, which is the summer of 2019.
Veleker’s recommendation related to Jenson’s request was that he agree to remain employed with the city for three years beyond his graduation date.
Berrens was hired with stipulations, including a one-year probationary period.
Training in the areas of water, sewer, streets, storm water management and general public works leadership was also required.
Veleker said Berrens completed the training regimen.
“I think Justin has really progressed well. He’s a team player. He’s a great addition to the staff,” he told the common council last month.
That is when the council voted to move Berrens from probationary status to permanent employment status.
Doing so also moved his pay to 100 percent of his annual salary, which is $77,808.
During his probation period, his pay was initially at 80 percent of that figure. Last April, the council approved increasing his initial salary to 90 percent of his annual salary.
Before the council voted on Jenson’s request for 50 percent tuition reimbursement, Ald, Scott Purchatzke questioned if the city should pay for employees to get degrees.
He wondered if more employees will come forward in the future and said the city should define who may pursue degrees and at level.
“We already have a tuition reimbursement program in place,” Kjelland said.
Purchatzke thinks it is vague.
Veleker said the city policy has been in place since 2000 and that he could count on one hand who used it.
“We have two young department heads. We should look at this as an investment,” he said. “When we hired Justin, we said we wanted him to have this advanced degree. This (Jenson’s request) is different. Aaron is being sensitive to the budget.”
Mayor Brian Smith said the degree Berrens is pursuing will be in the area in which he is working.
“Aaron is getting a master’s degree in a different area,” the mayor said. “It does qualify him for a different job, and maybe we’ll be able to use that in the future. Each instance which comes to the council is different. In this case, I think there is a difference.”