West Ada School District trustees say Superintendent Linda Clark’s contract is loaded with perks, weighing down a district squeezed for money for teachers and classroom space.
But one trustee and a former trustee say they were right to add fringe benefits to Clark’s contract even as the Great Recession was encroaching.
The debate over Clark’s contract took another turn this week as trustee Russell Joki wrote an opinion piece for the Idaho Statesman defending the board’s Sept. 29 vote to lop a year off Clark’s three-year contract.
Four of the five trustees voted to void the one-year contract extension the prior board had approved in June, just eight days before two supporters were replaced by two opponents elected in May. The new majority concluded that the June meeting failed to follow Idaho’s open-meeting law. The fifth trustee, Mike Vuittonet, who chaired the June 23 meeting, said the vote was proper and the extension valid.
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This week, the public debate has turned to the contents of Clark’s contract and the toll opponents say it is taking.
Trustee Julie Madsen told the Statesman that the contract includes perks she considers “profane.”
One is a bonus payment of 20 percent of Clark’s annual salary to be paid upon retirement. Clark is 66.
“That is perhaps the single most difficult thing for me to swallow,” Madsen said.
Madsen also dislikes the use of district funds to supply Clark a car, pay for a $100,000 life insurance policy, pay the full cost of her health, vision and dental coverage and pay the $10,000-a-year employee’s share of her contribution to the state retirement fund.
“I personally never had employment where I paid zero dollars on any health care or dental,” said Madsen, a physician.
Clark declined comment, saying she did not draft the contract.
Madsen said the perks were added as the district was sinking into recession, people were losing their homes and educators went through furloughs.
Vuittonet, now in his fifth four-year term on the board, said trustees rewarded Clark for the work she had done pulling the district through the recession, when the Legislature slashed payments to schools across Idaho. Clark took pay cuts during the furloughs.
“We had not been able to give her an increase of any kind because of the way the budgets were going,” Vuittonet told the Statesman.
The car was provided starting in 2006. Mileage reimbursements for Clark’s travel around the district were costing more than a car would, said Anne Ritter, a former trustee whom Madsen defeated in May.
The 20 percent bonus, about $29,000, was an attempt to encourage Clark to stay on the job as she was approaching retirement, Ritter said. She could have left at any time with full retirement benefits, so the board offered her a bonus if she agreed to stay longer, Ritter said.
When Ritter looks at the package now under scrutiny, she says, “I think she earned it. She is modestly paid.”
Clark earned $139,296 as superintendent in 2014-15, the fifth highest salary among Idaho superintendents, according to the State Department of Education. The superintendents in the Blaine County, Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Nampa school districts — all smaller than West Ada — were paid more.
The median wage nationally for a superintendent of a district of 25,000 or more students was $234,000 for women and $196,140 for men in 2014-15, according to an annual wage survey by the American Association of School Administrators.