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Special school board meeting Wednesday to address Browder’s departure

By Staff | Sep 21, 2010

A special Lee County School Board meeting will be held Wednesday, Sept. 22, to address Superintendent Dr. James Browder’s resignation.
Edison State College’s District President Dr. Kenneth Walker made an offer to Browder Monday, Sept. 20, for the position of vice president of operations, which he signed and returned later that afternoon.
The position of vice president of operations entails the responsibilities of overseeing charter school facilities, public safety, technology, student housing and operational oversight for the Hendry/Glades Center in LaBelle, along with additional projects they come up.
Browder will receive a salary of $160,000 a year, compared to $167,815 as the superintendent, with a car allowance of $600. He will most likely take the position sometime in November.
The policy for termination was altered at the Lee County School Board meeting in December 2008, so that Browder could exit the contract after 60 days of notice and receive $341,629 in severance — the equivalent of a two-year salary package.
His termination leaves the school board with two decisions — appointing an interim superintendent with the current board or waiting until November when the new members are seated.
Board member Jeanne Dozier said Browder asked the board to let him out of his contract early. She said Wednesday’s board meeting will address what the next step should be in replacing Browder.
Board member Jane Kuckel said Browder has the opportunity to leave earlier than 60 days if the board so desires.
She said a decision needs to be made on who to appoint as the interim superintendent before the middle of November when the three new board members are seated.
Kuckel said from her standpoint the board should begin the discussion on how to permanently replace the superintendent when the new board members are seated in November.
Tom Scott, who will join the board in November, said he expects Browder and the existing board to live up to his contract of staying the full 60 days until the new board is seated in November. He said a new interim superintendent should be appointed after the new board is seated.
“I hope the current board does not allow him to leave early and reward him by paying him the severance package,” Scott said.
He said he thinks the voters were very clear with what they were looking for, which was a change in direction.
“They want the new board to make those decisions,” Scott said.
Arnold Gibbs, who will face Mary Fisher in the November election for the remaining seat on the school board, said the board needs to have someone fill the superintendent position that is competent and capable. He said they also need to find someone that is familiar with the administration of the district to fill the void until a suitable replacement is found.
“Whenever he leaves there needs to be someone appointed,” he said.
Gibbs said the board may be faced with a split decision in November when it comes to finding a new superintendent.
“We have a board in November that is going to be split philosophically and in the decision making,” Gibbs said.
Dozier, Scott and Gibbs all said they were not surprised with Browder’s decision of accepting the job with Edison State College.
Dozier said she knew Browder had a long standing relationship with Edison State College.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he took the job … I know he will do an outstanding job,” she said. “I know his heart is in Fort Myers.”
Dozier said Browder will still be in this community and she knows that the school district will work with Edison State College.
“We currently have a very good working relationship with Edison,” she said. “I look forward to working with him.”
Scott said he thought Browder was very interested in finding another position.
“It seemed to me that he was actively pursuing it,” he said.
Scott said he wishes Browder well with his new responsibilities at Edison State College.
Gibbs said he believes Browder was forced into making the decision.
“I believe that Dr. Browder knew since the onset of the campaign that he was not very popular with the two new board members (Don Armstrong and Tom Scott) and that they voiced their displeasure with his administration, and I think he anticipated a very unsupportive relationship,” he said. “Perhaps they could have worked with Dr. Browder, but I think he sensed a strong sense of displeasure.”
On the other hand, Gibbs said he would have personally looked forward to working with Browder because he was making headway in many ways.
“I would have liked to have continued making those improvements and building upon what they have already done to make it better,” he said.
The special school board meeting Wednesday starts at 3:30 p.m.