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Browder asked to forego ‘parachute’

By Staff | Jan 6, 2009

One member of the Lee County School Board asked Superintendent James Browder on Tuesday to forego his recent severance package, nicknamed the “golden parachute,” yet the superintendent and board continue to support their decision to uphold changes to the contract.
Before the holiday break, the school board approved changes to Browder’s contract allowing him to leave the district within 60 days and receive a $342,000 severance package regardless of his reason for leaving.
Other board members point out that these changes will provide long-term savings because if Browder left today the district would be responsible for the remainder of his contract or four years.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik asked the superintendent to return to his original contract. Over the last month Chilmonik said he has received phone calls and e-mails from upset residents in his constituency.
“The perception out there is that money isn’t there for education and how in the world can we present a contract in this fashion,” he said. “I would ask Dr. Browder, let’s put it back to your former contract and send a message.”
The severance package issue has been contentious among the community, who on one side cannot understand why this would be added in difficult economic times, yet members of the school board continue to support the changes because Browder froze his salary last year.
Browder’s response to the contract was short, and he did not indicate whether he will revert to his old contract.
“It hasn’t cost the board a nickel,” he said. “I will take it under advisement.”
According to Chilmonik, the superintendent has unprecedented support among the rest of the board and the contract changes send the wrong message to the public.
Chairman Jane Kuckel and Vice-Chairman Steve Teuber supported the changes, while Jeanne Dozier and Elinor Scricca were absent from the discussion during Tuesday’s afternoon briefing meeting.
“It certainly is a benefit for the district that there is a two-year buyout instead of a four-year buyout, it is a reduction of liability,” said Kuckel. “Dr. Browder did take a freeze in his salary and it hasn’t cost us a penny.”
Teuber explained that he has not received any negative phone calls or e-mails from residents angered by changes to the superintendent’s contract.
“The changes in the contract save us with the insurance company and doesn’t cost us a dime. I’ve received no phone calls or e-mails,” he said.
During public comment a resident of Bonita Springs and an ardent supporter of the school district, Sue Jacobse, supported the changes and said that a board majority approved the changes.
“Mr. Chilmonik lost that vote and the board decided the right thing to do is give Dr. Browder that contract agreement,” said Jacobse. “Who is to define the right things? The board decides.”
Cape Coral resident John Traube said any further cuts that force district employees to sacrifice should be shouldered by all staff including the upper echelons of the district.
“Is Dr. Browder going to sacrifice as well?” asked Traube. “Sacrifice is with everyone including the top, not just the people in the classroom.”