The School Board voted four-to-one last month to extend Superintendent Patton’s contract by two years, to 2018. The vote came immediately following the Board’s annual review of Dr. Patton’s performance.
This decision has been criticized by several School Board candidates and by members of the public in letters to the editor. At some candidate forums, candidates have been asked if they would have voted for or against the extension. The matter and various opinions about it were covered in a June 11 Naples Daily News article "School Board candidates question decision to extend Collier superintendent's contract." It seems to have become one of the key issues in the campaign.
So I thought I should write about it.
The initial concern stated by a member of the public who addressed the Board at that meeting was if Dr. Patton’s performance deteriorated during the extended term of the contract, it would be difficult or expensive to fire her.
Based on the District's history, the concern has merit. The District has had considerable turnover, with five superintendents in the past 12 years. So following difficulties and great expense terminating the contracts of the previous two superintendents (Dennis Thompson in 2010 and Ray Baker in 2007), Dr. Patton’s contract was drafted specifically to prevent such problems.
Further, the Florida Legislature passed a law that specifically limits the severance that can be paid when firing a state employee, including a district school superintendent. Specifically, Florida Statutes §215.425(4)(a) states:
On or after July 1, 2011, a unit of government that enters into a contract or employment agreement, or renewal or renegotiation of an existing contract or employment agreement, that contains a provision for severance pay with an officer, agent, employee, or contractor must include the following provisions in the contract:
- A requirement that severance pay provided may not exceed an amount greater than 20 weeks of compensation.
- A prohibition of provision of severance pay when the officer, agent, employee, or contractor has been fired for misconduct, as defined in §443.036(30), by the unit of government.
And §215.425(4)(b) states:
On or after July 1, 2011, an officer, agent, employee, or contractor may receive severance pay that is not provided for in a contract or employment agreement if the severance pay represents the settlement of an employment dispute. Such severance pay may not exceed an amount greater than 6 weeks of compensation. The settlement may not include provisions that limit the ability of any party to the settlement to discuss the dispute or settlement.
In other words, state law now limits severance to 20 weeks of compensation. Dr. Patton’s current annual base salary is $214,000; 20 weeks at that rate would be $82,308. Small potatoes compared to the more $555,000 paid to Mr. Baker.
But still, why extend Dr. Patton’s contract now? Why not wait and let the next Board decide, since the current contract runs through 2016? Board member Pat Carroll, who voted against the extension, said that with two, possibly three, new people joining the Board after the November elections, it would be more respectful to defer the vote until then.
As explained by Board member Kathy Curatolo, who made the motion to extend the contract, the reason is to provide stability -- for the District’s principals, teachers, employees and community member. To me, it signals the Board’s support for Dr. Patton and their confidence in her for the next four years.
In fact, the Board did the exact same thing in 2012 following Dr. Patton’s first-year evaluation. It extended her contract, which then ended in 2014, for two years to 2016.
Here’s what was reported in the Naples Daily News at the time:
[Board members] said the extension would provide the community and the district with stability and allow Patton to continue the positive momentum she created in her first year
The district has had a high turnover rate with five superintendents in the past 12 years.
"It sends the message we're in this for the long term," Board Vice-Chair Barbara Berry said. "We want her to be able to develop what she's started."
The contract extension is a result of Patton's positive one-year evaluation….
"In my opinion, this is someone we want to encourage to stay," Board Chair Roy Terry said. "By doing this, we would recognize the outstanding job she has done this year and it will stabilize her place in this community."
Another reason people don’t support the contract extension is that because the topic was not on the Board Agenda, community members didn’t have the opportunity to address the Board before the vote.
That’s a frustration I can understand. While the District council said such notice was not legally required, perhaps it would have been better to wait. Board members could have discussed their interest in extending the contract and rationale for doing so at the June meeting, and asked that it be put on the agenda for a vote at the next Board meeting. While what was done was consistent with what was done in 2012, giving community members an opportunity to weigh in would have been consistent with the open and inclusive nature of the process used to select the superintendent.
According to a Naples Daily News June 19 column, “Turns out the public will get a chance to weigh in on school Superintendent Kamela Patton's contract after all.”
It may be too little, too late. But then again, maybe it won't.
At its July 29 meeting, the Collier County School Board will take another vote to extend Patton's contract by two years, stretching the end date out to June 2018.....
Erika Donalds, [a] candidate for the District 3 seat, … expects a crowd. "I know parents are going to want to come out to that meeting," she said. Donalds helped organize the group Parents ROCK to fight against changes to the system's after school programs ushered in by Patton.
But the issue now isn't agreement or disagreement on specific policies.
"It isn't about that at all. It's the way the board ignored the public and disregarded public input," Donalds said.
… [Donalds also] criticized the school board for bringing the matter up in the summer, when parents tend to tune out school news.
So there you have it. I thought you should be aware of this issue. As always, I welcome your comments.