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Bill limiting public officials’ severance deal effective Feb. 1

By Staff | Jan 21, 2009

The Florida Legislature passed a bill during its recent special session dealing with the amount of severance public officials can receive.
The bill was passed by the education committees and both chambers of the Legislature, and it is scheduled to go into effect Feb. 1.
The bill’s language prohibits “a district school board from entering into an employment contract that provides for payment of an amount greater than one year of an employee’s or superintendent’s annual salary for termination, buy-out, or other type of settlement.”
It also allows the state to decrease the salaries of school board members, the superintendent or other employees in a time of financial urgency. Any agreement entered into before February is subject to the changes if, at any point, the district has insufficient funds.
The legislation will not affect the recent changes to Superintendent James Browder’s contract because it was approved in December.
Nicknamed a “golden parachute,” Browder modified his contract to include a severance package worth $342,000 or two years of salary. It received near unanimous support from the Lee County School Board — with the exception of Board Member Robert Chilmonik, who voted against it — but the public’s take on the changes are mixed.
On top of adding the new severance package, the ethics clause of Browder’s contract that outlined reasons for termination was also eliminated. Now either party could end the contract and only 60 days notice is required before Browder leaves the district.
Chilmonik’s issue with the new severance package is that it allows the superintendent to leave the district and receive $342,000 regardless of his performance.
The rest of the board supported the changes, stating it allows the district to pay for two years rather than the full four years if Browder were to leave today. They also pointed out that it eliminates a drawn-out lawsuit if the board and superintendent disagree over severance.
Two weeks after the changes were made to the superintendent’s contract, the board delivered Browder’s semiannual performance appraisal. They gave him a 2.8 out of 3.
Chilmonik said he is pleased that the Legislature passed the changes Wednesday.
“I am pleased to see the wisdom of the House and Senate for passing bills that protect the public from the egregious contracts that have no benefit to the public other than to the recipient,” said Chilmonik.
On Dec. 19, he sent a letter to the Legislature asking for legislation or guidance in developing contracts for district staff.