Session Summary: Superintendent Contracts
John Sedor, Sedor Wendlandt Evan & Filippi
Attorney John Sedor provided a deep dive into writing an effective superintendent contract. Throughout his presentation, he emphasized the importance of boards maintaining good relations with their superintendents.
“You lose opportunities as a district if you don’t have a good relationship,” Sedor said. “The contract represents the terms of conditions of employment, but it is not the relationship. When I get a call about issues between a board and superintendent, it’s usually too late.”
Using a template as a reference, Sedor guided attendees through various components of a well constructed contract framework.
Discussing Terms and Conditions
Sedor encouraged boards to discuss terms and conditions with the superintendent. This helps to understand the nuances of the individual, and reflect it in the terms of the contract. He said his preference would be to negotiate the contract when the board is making their selection between finalists. There’s nothing wrong with giving candidates a draft contract ahead of time and asking them to be prepared to discuss it during the interview process.
A one year contract term can limit the district’s liability, but also limits the superintendent’s authority to be successful. It can be difficult to provide district leadership if people know you are only there for a year. The board will want to make sure the contract helps their superintendent to be successful. One solution is to balance a longer term contract with a provision that gives the board the ability to get out of it at an affordable price if necessary. These discussions can be a win/win.
It is important to check your superintendent’s contract for an “Evergreen” provision, which creates a never ending contract that extends the term without action by the board. Every year with elections your board changes, and it is helpful for boards to know how far into the contract term the superintendent is in any given year. John does not recommend “Evergreen” provisions.
Compensation is up to the board. A district can advertise a compensation range for the position, but it will come down to negotiation in the end. Superintendent and teacher contract negotiations are different. Union contracts are not negotiated on individual teacher performance, but the superintendent can be evaluated by the board on their individual performance. While a board could tie the superintendent’s salary to union negotiations, this is analytically like mixing apples and oranges in which some creative approaches to compensation are lost. They are the district’s top employee and CEO.
Number of Days
In addition to salary, the contract should clarify that the superintendent will be on duty 365 days/24 hours. Superintendents are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, and get compensated the same no matter how many days they work. The superintendent’s job is to carry out the duties, provisions, and directives of the board. The value of identifying a number of days in the contract is only to calculate per diem. The goal is to make sure that the number of days in the contract do not restrict the number of days the superintendent can work, or generate additional cost to the district.
Benefits can oftentimes create more value in a contract by putting them into dollars, rather than as a benefit. This is or can be because of TRS. It’s basically an optics issue. The flip side of expressing benefits in terms of dollars is that it raises the salary level.
Every contract provision creates incentive. Some contracts allow full cash out of annual leave, but Sedor said he doesn’t think this is a healthy practive. Allowing full cash out of leave encourages the superintendent not to take la break. I’m a proponent of partial (not full) cash out options, he said.
The key is to make sure there is a triggering mechanism to conduct evaluations on a regular basis. The superintendent can give notice to the board that its time for an evaluation. This gets back to the relationship between the board and superintendent. Often the only time the board looks at the superintendent’s contract is when things aren’t going well. When there is tension in the relationship, its best to address issues when relations are still good.
Every contract can be terminated. Sedor discussed the grounds upon which a superintendent can be Discharged for Cause, and said the contract should reflect the relationship between the two parties. With regard to dismissal without cause, once a superintendent has proven their ability to be successful in your district, this provision should erode. Either you have cause, or there is some factor that is community based.
Sedor concluded his presentation by reiterating that the key to a good board/superintendent relationship is taking the time to have the small difficult conversations that “keep the sand out of your shoes.”