West Ada School District’s wrangling over the superintendent’s contract has entered a new phase.
First the board’s new majority voided a one-year contract extension that the former board awarded Clark in June. Then some trustees went public this week with criticism of the remaining contract as too generous.
How big is the contract?
It will cost the school district about $177,000 for 2015-16, including salary and benefits, according to the district. Some trustees say it is more than $200,000.
So is the salary fair?
The district is paying Clark $143,000 this school year. Last school year, the latest for which the State Department of Education has comparative data, she earned $139,296 — less than superintendents in the smaller Boise, Blaine County, Nampa and Coeur d’Alene school districts. West Ada has 37,000 students, Boise 26,000 and Nampa 15,000. They’re Idaho’s No. 1, 2 and 3 districts by enrollment.
Members of the former board majority say Clark’s pay is justified by excellent work.
What about the benefits?
The new board is targeting these. When the trustees voided Clark’s contract extension on Sept. 29 on a 4-1 vote, they stripped out the benefit package, which includes a 20 percent retirement bonus worth $29,000. But a previous contract remains in effect through next school year, and it appears to have the same benefits, said trustee Russell Joki, one of two critics of the contract elected in May.
So the costs that board members find so upsetting — trustee Julie Madsen has referred to them as “profane” — could be with the district for the next couple of years.
Clark’s salary is about $20,000 less than neighboring Boise School District Superintendent Don Coberly’s, but he doesn’t receive as many benefits as Clark does, Joki said.
He said a superintendent’s base salary should be competitive, but benefit packages should align with what other district employees receive.
“I really don’t care what other school districts do,” said Joki, a former superintendent in Nampa and the Tigard-Tualatin School District southwest of Portland. “Our interest is local.”
What other benefits are in there?
Among the benefits Clark receives are a district car, full payment by the district into her state retirement fund, and use of a credit card for district business purposes.
The old board added the retirement bonus a few years ago as a reward for Clark agreeing to stay on the job even though she was approaching retirement age, said Anne Ritter, a pro-Clark trustee defeated by Madsen in May.
The Statesman examined the contracts for the four districts that pay their superintendents more than West Ada does. Here is what we found:
• The Blaine County School District provides its superintendent with a car for district and incidental personal use. The Boise, Nampa and Coeur d’Alene districts do not. Clark has use of a car for district or personal business as part of her contract. Trustees who approved the car in 2006 said she was driving in a huge district — 360 square miles — and her mileage had been costing more than a car would.
• Like West Ada, Blaine County pays both the employee and employer shares into the state’s retirement fund. Boise, Nampa and Coeur d’Alene do not. The benefit costs West Ada about $10,000 a year.
• Blaine County also provides its superintendent with a gas credit card and a district credit card for business-related purchases. The three other districts do not. Madsen said Clark’s charges to the district credit card are about $15,000 a year. Clark said she used the card for legitimate district expenses and filed receipts with the district’s comptroller.
• No other contracts include a retirement bonus.
Madsen includes the $29,000 retirement bonus, the $15,000 in expenses and other items in her tally of the contract’s yearly cost. The school district does not.
So Clark’s benefits are rare?
Stan Olson, the Boise School District superintendent from 2002 to 2010, said use of a credit card is widespread. He said he had a credit card at the Boise School District that he requested be audited four times a year.
As for the district-supplied vehicle? “A car is very common for larger districts,” Olson said. He had one; his successor does not.
The retirement bonus is another matter. “That’s unusual,” Olson said. But some urban districts have been known to provide retiring superintendents with severance packages of up to $600,000, he said.
Why is all of this coming out now?
After taking office in July, Joki and Madsen complained that the old board should have left Clark’s contract extension for the new board to decide. Two members of the old board had opposed it in June, and they stayed on, creating a 4-to-1 majority against the extension. The only holdover who backed the extension in June is Mike Vuittonet, who is now in his fifth term.
Meanwhile, board members started challenging Clark on other grounds. The board refused to let her fill a $100,000-plus testing director’s job. When Gov. Butch Otter named Clark to the State Board of Education in July, trustees questioned whether she could keep serving the district adequately.
When the new board voided Clark’s extension, it declared that the previous board’s vote had violated Idaho’s law on open meetings. Vuittonet, who was board chairman at the time, said both the meeting and the contract were valid.
Several Meridian leaders have rallied to Clark’s side. Former Superintendent Christine Donnell, who has a Meridian elementary school named for her, called the vote voiding Clark’s extension “a travesty.” The next day, she and former board member Reid Olsen launched a campaign to recall the four trustees who voted against Clark’s deal. If enough signatures are gathered, a recall election would be held in March.
What does Clark say about all of this?
She isn’t talking. Will she resign? Will she sue? Will she try to hang on until the recall election, if one is called? These are unanswered questions.
What is the board likely to do when it meets Friday?
The trustees are scheduled to meet in executive session at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the District Service Center, 1303 E. Central Drive in Meridian. The meeting notice says vaguely that the board will consider hiring an employee or evaluating, dismissing or disciplining an employee or student, and will discuss pending or possible litigation.
The board met in executive session on Sept. 29 for two hours before emerging into a public meeting to void Clark’s contract extension. It did not allow the audience to speak.
The old board routinely included Clark in executive sessions. The new board does not.
Madsen said she doesn’t know what will happen to Clark’s contract next.