School board appoints interim superintendent
The Lee County School Board waived a 60-day notice requirement and agreed to pay Dr. James Browder his full contractually agreed upon severance package Wednesday.
Browder will depart as superintendent of schools at midnight Friday and Dr. Larry Tihen will assume the position of interim superintendent, also on Friday.
The motion to allow Browder to leave without his requiring the notice called for in his contract was made by Board member Elinor Scricca and passed 3-1, with Jeanne Dozier dissenting.
Browder will no longer receive his salary as of Friday but he will receive severance pay of $341,629, as per contract provisions approved by the board at the end of 2008.
Board Attorney Keith Martin said the contract only indicated one lump payment for Browder’s severance pay, which is two years salary.
Browder’s employment contract states that the school board had the right to receive Browder’s services for the next 60 days and also that Browder had the right to 60 days of employment. The contract also indicated that he also could exit early if he desired and a board majority agreed that would be in the best interest of the district.
Browder had asked the district to release him as soon as possible so the district could settle down until the new board is seated after the general election in November.
“Please allow me to leave for the good of the district and most importantly for the good of the students,” Browder asked the board members at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
He said given the circumstances, it is critical to move on because the school district is in a state of flux and anxiety.
“I have spoken to numerous personnel over the last few days and people are walking on egg shells,” board member Jane Kuckel agreed. “They need to have a closure because they are not certain of who is in charge.”
Scricca, who lost her re-election bid in the primary, said she advised Browder to leave quickly and to work at getting another job after the primary election took place.
“What he told me was that he was working on it… I knew something was going to be happening very shortly,” she said. “The realistic thing for any experienced professional is to know when he isn’t wanted, and to look for employment.”
Dozier said she also believes it is in the best interest of the district to have Browder leave, so the district can settle down and move forward.
“Dr. Browder has moved on so we need to move on as the school district as well,” Dozier said.
She did address the issue of Browder seeking other employment during the discussion of him leaving earlier than his contracted 60 days. She stated that Browder breached his contract by not notifying the school board when he applied for a Nevada superintendent position, a post for which he was a finalist but from which he withdrew to accept a local position with Edison State College.
Board Chairman Steve Teuber, who also lost his re-election bid in the primary, said Browder told him that he was probably going to look for something else.
He said Browder told him on Aug. 31 he was putting in an application for the superintendent job in Nevada. Teuber said he probably should have put out a memo for the entire board about the information Browder gave him.
Scricca said she did not receive a memo from Browder stating he was applying for another job, but she had received confirmation on the phone.
Browder told the school board that he believed he had notified the four of them and then asked Dozier to recollect a discussion they had the night of the election in the car.
“I want to have an opportunity to say my goodbyes and a sense of the hard dedication I have put in to this system that I love,” Browder said.
The vote to appoint Tihen as interim superintendent was unanimous. It came after a final recess was taken following many motions for candidate recommendations that failed due to tie votes.
Donald Bryant, Fort Myers Middle Academy principal, Dr. Greg Adkins, chief human resource officer, Dr. Connie Jones, chief academic officer, Charles Lucky, Harnes Marsh Elementary School principal and Mike McNerney were among those who were recommended.
Dozier recommended Tihen as the interim superintendent because she said he is a man of integrity and she is completely confident that he will do what’s in the best interest for the children. She said he will fit her agenda of maintaining stability within the district. He has been with the district for 31 years and is only months away from retirement.
Teuber and Martin will work on his contract, which includes a five-day advance notice if the board decides not to retain him for the permanent superintendent position. The contact will be presented at the Oct. 7 meeting for approval.
Tihen thanked the board for having trust in him and said he is very fortunate to have been chosen. He said he will bring forth a collaboration of the other candidates’ wisdom to the job.
Teuber said he wanted to hold the special meeting Wednesday afternoon because the board would not be able to come together as a whole until the middle of October due to board members traveling. He also addressed the issue of not providing a 48 hour notice for the meeting, which is provided in the statute concerning notice.
Browder finished the meeting by apologizing to the board members of what he put them through Wednesday night.
“It was never my intent to hurt the district,” he said. “I am a pretty average guy who tried to do his best.”
He said he has been honored to serve this community and public schools for 36 years, which he said will remain to be the highlight of his life.