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District OKs three-year contract for superintendent candidate

By Staff | Jun 2, 2011

Before the Lee County School Board approved Dr. Joseph Burke’s contract for the superintendent position, two small revisions were made Thursday night.

Board Attorney Keith Martin said after the meeting Thursday afternoon, board member Jane Kuckel asked for a couple small changes to be made to the document, which Burke agreed upon prior to Thursday night’s meeting.

The first change was in the language associated with the evaluation of superintendent section. Kuckel wanted the verbiage to change from not basing the evaluation solely on goals, but rather on the accomplishment of measurable goals and objectives.

The second revision Kuckel wanted was to verbiage concerning performance incentive pay. The draft contract read that if the incentive was not made in its entirety Burke would not be compensated the $2,000 for that particular goal.

Burke can now be awarded an amount less than $2,000 for partial achievement.

Kuckel said in the contract it was all or nothing. She said it was fair to make a judgment in terms of a partial payment because if the trend lines showed that an improvement was made he should be compensated for that.

“It is very difficult where you might set a goal of a 3 percent achievement and the actual statistic comes out to 2.9 percent, so it is all or nothing,” she said or the original language.

Burke was given a three-year contract with an annual salary of $185,000. The board has tentatively agreed to swear Burke in on July 1 at 9 a.m. pending Kuckel’s schedule.

“I think it is a contract that the community would be very proud of us for putting it together and I support it full heartily,” Board Member Jeanne Dozier said.

A workshop was held earlier in the day to discuss contract parameters and some of the stipulations Burke presented to the board attorney.

The school district’s original draft had an annual salary rate of $180,000. Martin said the salary Burke requested will provide a cost savings due to a monthly contribution of $165 for Burke’s health care plan.

The decision to provide Burke with a three-year contract did not come lightly Thursday morning.

Kuckel initially said she was in favor of a two-year contract, with a decision made a year and a half into his contract as to whether they would extend it to three.

“I don’t think the three-year contract gives any more confidence to the community than a two-year contract,” Kuckel said. “If the superintendent can’t get his arms around the district in a year and a half it probably won’t work any longer than that. You can’t shorten a contract once you write it.”

Kuckel said they expect Burke to be able to hit the ground running and move the district forward, which is a responsibility of a superintendent.

Dozier said they are trying to assure the community that they are protecting the district by offering a shorter contract to Burke.

“If we have a two-year contract, after a year and a half we will know if that person will work with us and know that person is a good match,” she said, adding that they can roll the contract into another year if he is a good match.

“I think that would be in the best interest of the school board and taxpayers in Lee County,” she said about a two-year contract.

On the other hand, board members Don Armstrong, Mary Fischer and Thomas Scott were in favor of a three- year contract from the beginning.

Armstrong said a three-year contract would provide stability for the district, along with the district making a long-term commitment to the superintendent.

“I think three years would be a sufficient amount of time,” Armstrong said about Burke moving the district forward in a positive manner.

He said a three-year contract would be prudent because it is enough time for Burke to show them what he can do.

Fischer said that giving Burke a three-year contract would show good faith from the school board, the citizens committee and the community members, all of whom shared their comments during the hiring process.

“It sets the stage for a progressive plan and also opens doors for Dr. Burke to show his strong leadership and build relationships with students, parents, the community and union,” she said why she would support a three-year contract.

After a long discussion, Dozier and Kuckel said they could support a three-year contract if Burke agreed to change the severance pay package from 50 weeks to 30 weeks. The severance pay was later changed to 35 weeks for termination by the school board without cause per Burke’s request.

His contract also includes a performance incentive pay of up to $2,000 for each one of the five goals the board adopts, $700 monthly transportation allowance for in-county travel, 20 work days of vacation and an annual $3,600 for his insurance policy. The contract also included moving expenses from Monroe County to Lee County not to exceed $6,000 and communication technology such as a smart phone, laptop and fax machine.

Instead of 120 days after Burke starts his employment, the district decided to sit down and discuss the five performance incentive goals 90 days after he begins.

Some of the performance incentives that Burke provided dealt with graduation rates, dropout rates, FCAT scores and adequate yearly progress in reading and mathematics.

Kuckel said she wants to set goals by Oct. 1 for five measurable goals with up to $2,000 in performance pay for the first year. She said the setting of goals will then move to Dec. 1 for every subsequent year.

“It is a long-term conversation,” she said.

Martin said in the event that the school board and the superintendent cannot meet in agreement on the goals, the school board will make the final decision.

Board members also addressed if Burke were to seek other employment, which is also apart of his contract. They all agreed that each board needs to have a written notification when and if Burke seeks other employment simultaneously.

“We have the right to know that we have someone looking,” Dozier said. “I don’t want to read it in a headline.”