Legal Brief Page 10
What You Want Covered
by Your Contract
BY MAREE F. SNEED
Once the superintendent who’s received a job offer has selected legal counsel to negotiate his or her contract, the superintendent and attorney ought to discuss the provisions that are particularly important to the superintendent.
For most individuals moving into their first or a subsequent superintendency, the key provisions are these: job responsibilities; board role; annual base salary and annual increase; term of contract and extension of contract; tax-sheltered annuity; health, retirement and insurance benefits; and termination.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES. Include a section that outlines these. At a minimum, this section should state the superintendent is the district’s CEO with overall responsibility for administrative, educational, operational and financial matters.
BOARD/SUPERINTENDENT RELATIONSHIPS. Define how the two entities will work together. Include a provision obligating the board to refer all material criticisms, complaints and suggestions to the superintendent for investigation and appropriate action. Another provision should require the board to include the superintendent in all public meetings and in closed sessions unless state law allows an exclusion. Finally, require the board to meet with the superintendent soon after the contract is signed to develop a process for communicating and reviewing these processes periodically.
SALARY. The superintendent or counsel should obtain the predecessor’s annual base salary and the regional and state averages. This information should be used in proposing the annual base salary and increases in subsequent years. Agreement on the latter will avoid contract negotiations, particularly during the first year. Typically, increases are tied to increases in district collective bargaining agreements or cost-of-living increases.
TERM AND EXTENSION OF CONTRACT. Specify the proposed length, in absence of any state law, ideally for four to five years with an automatic-renewal provision that extends the contract for an additional year beginning after Year 1. The length is critical to stability in school district leadership.
DEFERRED COMPENSATION. This is important for a superintendent who’s moved from state to state, unable to vest in a retirement system. If the board will agree only to an annual base salary below the market rate because of public perception, the board may be willing to put money in a tax-sheltered annuity.
HEALTH, RETIREMENT AND INSURANCE BENEFITS. Provisions covering health, insurance and retirement should match benefits provided to other administrators. Request the board pay the full premiums for a health insurance plan of the superintendent’s choice for family coverage and for additional life and disability insurance. Also request the board pay the employer and employee portions into the state retirement system.
TERMINATION. The contract should provide for termination by mutual agreement, unilateral termination by the superintendent, unilateral termination by the board and termination by the board for cause. The unilateral termination by the board should include severance and benefits for at least a year after termination. You want to agree on how the contract will end in the beginning of the relationship.
Other contract provisions to be considered include sick and personal leave, vacation leave, automobile expenses, business expenses, evaluation of the superintendent, membership fees in local, state and national organizations, professional development (including AASA conferences), attorney’s fees, moving and temporary living expenses, and performance compensation.
Given the complexity of a superintendent’s contract and the importance of the contract to the superintendent’s compensation package and to the relationship between the board and the superintendent, the superintendent should hire an attorney to advocate on his or her behalf and to provide professional advice on the provisions that should be included.
Maree Sneed is an attorney specializing in education law with Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org