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Board OKs changes to superintendent’s employment contract

By Staff | Dec 9, 2008

The Lee County School Board approved changes to Superintendent James Browder’s employment contract Tuesday night that would not only allow him to take on a second job, but also increase his life insurance policy and the severance package offered to him if he leaves the district.
The vote was 4-1 with Board Member Robert Chilmonik voting against the proposal.
During a workshop last month, Browder asked Board Member Jeanne Dozier to begin negotiating some changes in his contract in order to allow him to take on a part-time teaching position at one of the regional universities.
But the drafted changes unveiled Tuesday were much more substantial.
The new contract increases the superintendent’s life insurance coverage from $500,000 to $750,000, putting the annual premium to approximately $4,130.
Board Attorney Keith Martin explained to the board that the new policy would save the district in the long run, specifically because Browder’s current premiums start low but increase steadily each year to as much as $20,000.
The policy for termination was also altered so that the superintendent or school board could exit the contract after 60 days of notice and the superintendent receives $341,629 in severance — the equivalent of a two-year salary package.
Joe Donzelli, district spokesperson, pointed out that if Browder were to leave today the district would have to pay him for the remainder of his contract or four years.
The superintendent’s salary is one element that remains unchanged. It is still valued at $167,814 even though the board approved a superintendent compensation package of more than $220,000 earlier this year.
In drafting the changes, Martin said he examined between 10 and 15 contracts from other superintendents, appointed officials and chief executive officers across the state to determine the updated severance package. Other contracts had severance packages dispensing salaries ranging from three months to four years.
Revisions on the contract were submitted minutes before the special school board meeting began at 2:30 p.m.
Chilmonik complained that he had not been provided with the changes until the last minute. He asked the board to postpone the decision until Jan. 6, but his motion did not receive support from other members.
“I just received this 20 minutes ago,” he said. “So we all got this at the same time?”
Dozier explained that she assumed responsibility for submitting the changes at the last minutes, and said that Browder has been very mindful of changes to his contract.
“I was out of town for a couple of weeks and it was almost like we worked on this at the last minute. I apologize for not getting it to you sooner,” she said.
Dozier added that she supported the changes in Browder’s contract: “I am very comfortable with this. We are simply doing what is right for the CEO of this company.”
Chilmonik outlined that the new contract would allow the superintendent to receive $342,000 regardless of what happens between him and the board. He was also concerned with public perception of allowing the superintendent to be able to leave the district for no reason in what he described as a “golden parachute.”
“We have removed any incentive from the superintendent compensation package and haven’t put anything in the contract for reaching certain goals,” he said.
Board Member Elinor Scricca, via speakerphone Tuesday night, said she supported the contractual changes. Scricca was concerned how the public would perceive a drawn out lawsuit between the board and superintendent over severance.
“Our concern is the 80,000 youngsters, and if we have a very negative or aggravated situation between the board and superintendent, this reflects on the system as a whole,” she said.
Vice-Chairman Steven Teuber and Chairman Jane Kuckel also supported the changes Tuesday.
“He has proved over and over again what he can do. It is time we do what is right. He said, ‘I am professional, I’ve acted like a professional and I want to be treated like a professional,'” said Teuber.
Browder commented Tuesday afternoon that he plans on staying with the school district for another eight to 10 years.
He added that he is no longer seeking a part-time teaching position because of the time he devotes to presiding over the school district.
“I don’t have time to do that because I’m here on Saturday and Sunday anyway,” said Browder.