Clause in contract highlights Chesapeake board division

Published 10:11 am Thursday, February 18, 2010

CHESAPEAKE — Was it a brouhaha over what was in essence a typo or a good catch by a newly elected board member?

That was the focus of a heated debated between members of the Chesapeake Board of Education during Wednesday night’s regular meeting.

At issue was a section of the five-year contract for Superintendent Dr. Scott Howard that will go into effect in August. This is the second contract for the superintendent who came to the district in 2007.

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Chiefly the major concern of board president Jerry Osborne who brought the matter to public attention is found on the fifth page of the 10-page document under the heading of “Vacation.”

It reads as follows: “Superintendent shall accrue vacation leave at the rate of ninety (90) days per calendar year, accruing monthly. Vacation leave days shall be a fully paid leave, and may be used at the discretion of the Superintendent barring extraordinary and compelling circumstances requiring the continued presence of the Superintendent at his place of work.

“All or part of the vacation leave accrued but unused at the end of any calendar year may be exchanged for cash, at the option of the Superintendent, at his current per diem pay rate. …. All vacation leave which is accrued and unused during the term of this contract and which is not exchanged for cash pursuant to preceding paragraph, shall be accumulated and carried forward to the credit of the Superintendent.”

Osborne discovered those clauses when he requested copies of Howard’s current and upcoming contracts last month.

“This rather disturbed me,” Osborne told a packed house at the Chesapeake Middle School. “Ninety days would be $34,886 that could be cashed in. Over five years that’s $156,000. These are public documents. Here I am looking at a signed contract with these values. … To have this type of wages was outrageous. … At least the public should know. … I have had a lot of problems with this. It is our school district. The magnitude of the contract, how good stewards were we?”

When he discovered the clauses, Osborne said he shared the information with various people in the community. However, he did not go to Howard or then school board president Dr. Mike Dyer, whose signature along with Howard’s and treasurer Sandra Benson is on the contract.

“I thought they knew what was in the contract,” he said.

Osborne did later contact Howard, who told the board president that he had signed the document but had not read it.

Dyer told the audience that 90 days of annual vacation was simply a clerical error and that Howard’s new contract gave him only 30 days annual vacation, an increase of five days per year over the current allocation. The figure of 90 days came about because that is the cap on which Howard can accrue vacation time.

“I owe you an apology,” Dyer said to those present. “(The figure of 30 days ) is in the records. There has been no harm or monies transferred. I did not read the final draft. … It is obviously a clerical error. I am apologizing to the community. That is not an excuse. It is just the truth.”

Bill Pratt, who joined Osborne as a new board member this year, commended Osborne for bringing the issue to the public’s attention.

“We should be grateful Jerry found this error,” he said citing “the magnitude of the error.”

However, Dr. Kim Oxley, who also approved the new contract along with Dyer last year, took exception to the fact that she was not contacted by Osborne about this matter and objected to the manner in which Osborne made the issue public.

“We are conducting board business out in the community before we discuss it together,” Oxley told Osborne. “If you were concerned about the contract, you would discuss it with the entire community before with the board. I find it personally insulting I was not made aware of it.”

In the audience was former school board member Mike Curry who sided with Oxley on the way the matter was handled.

“All you had to do was go to Scott Howard and the school board,” Curry said. “Instead you are making a mountain. I challenge the ethics and conduct of the board.”

The board agreed to go into executive session to amend the contract to 30 days annual vacation for the superintendent.

Howard did not speak during the meeting, but in an earlier interview with The Tribune he reiterated that the number of vacation days was simply an error.

“I have never asked for any (additional) pay for vacation,” the superintendent said. “This was nothing more than a clerical error.”

Another hot button issue at the meeting was the district’s strategic plan that was unveiled last year. Pratt has been a vocal opponent of the plan, criticizing it for the mission statement that calls for Chesapeake students to become “global citizens.”

Businessman Jim Galloway, who has children in the district, read a five-page plea supporting the plan and attacking criticism of it.

“Most everyone knows of the petty personal political issues each board member is involved with,” he told the board. “If it does not involved the education of Chesapeake children, leave it at home. It has no place on the board.”

However Pratt defended his position saying he would like “to throw this thing in the river.”

When teachers in the audience were told the time allotted for public comments was past, they left the meeting in protest.

“It is very upsetting,” Andrea Douglas, a Chesapeake Elementary teacher said afterwards. “For the first time our district has direction. Many of us feel that we have new board members that are turning it upside down.”