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Browder fires back at school board member

By Staff | Jan 24, 2009

Inner conflicts and bitterness materialized during a public workshop on Friday where officials from the Lee County School District not only discussed the budget, but argued about employment contract changes and teamwork.
Superintendent James Browder unveiled a five-year plan that could cut as many as 600 employees and dozens of school programs. During his budget presentation the superintendent seemed contrite and heated as he said “reductions to people will be severe.”
Browder also pointed out the school district has continually been considered one of the top five districts across the state for its fiscal management. He stressed fiscal conservatism and having a plan to deal with the district’s budget woes.
“We have done an excellent job in protecting the taxpayer’s investment,” said Browder.
The issue of Browder’s contract has taken a front seat in the public eye. In fact, a majority of conversations in board meetings are meandering towards the superintendent’s contract rather than the looming budget.
On Friday afternoon, Board member Bob Chilmonik asked the superintendent if he would be willing to reinstate the ethics clause of his contract.
“There is still an elephant in the room and that is your contract,” said Chilmonik. “Frankly, it hasn’t been well received in the community. I want to ask you today, would you put the ethics clause back in the contract?”
The superintendent said he didn’t support Chilmonik’s decisions to conduct business “behind his back in the media.”
“No,” replied Browder. “I will tell you when I will put it back, when the governor replaces you on the board with an acceptable school board member.”
In December, the ethics clause was removed from his contract, a section that lists general reasons for termination. His life insurance policy increased and language added a severance package worth $342,000 if he were to leave the district.
Earlier this month Chilmonik sent a letter to members of the Florida Legislature asking for their guidance in developing a statewide regulation on severance packages. Later, a piece of legislation limiting severance packages to a maximum of one year passed during the special session.
Board Member Elinor Scricca said the upcoming cuts were unfortunate, but added that the district has been able to do more with less in the past. She also asked the board to put aside vacuous remarks and politic language.
“Enough is enough. Let’s not take this crisis and develop it into something that will make a person who is disputing the trend and what we should be doing,” said Scricca. “I am asking Mr. Chilmonik, please join us in doing what we need to do for the kids, teachers and support staff.”