Ex-board member opposes rolling three-year pacts for superintendents

To the editor:

‘Tis the season for giving gifts. No, not the one in December, but the spring, when boards of education bestow a contract extension upon their superintendents.

But wait, you say. What if the superintendent presides over a district with poor test scores?

Answer: It really doesn’t matter.

What if he has poor communication and interpersonal skills?

Again, doesn’t matter.

How about a superintendent who seems more interested in traveling and polishing his resume than being physically present to lead his district?

See above, same answer.

In Missouri, it’s common practice for boards of education to add a year to their superintendent’s three-year contract, just a few months before the first year is complete.

That’s unfortunate, as the practice essentially bestows upon the superintendent a rolling three-year contract.

It’s wonderful job security for a superintendent whose salary and benefits may approach $750,000 over the next three years, but it may not always be the best decision for the board or taxpayers.

A rolling contract is essentially one-sided, with boards willing to let their superintendent walk, if requested, but unable to effectively push them out the door, once new information comes to light.

The St. Louis region is littered with examples of boards who were left with unpleasant choices — let their superintendent complete the next two or more years, or pay them to go away.

Either choice likely damages the reputation of the school district for many years.

Just as programs in a school district come under periodic review, so should this practice. Rubber-stamping rolling three-year contracts only serves to shift power from an elected board to a superintendent, who can then outlast even the most recently elected board members.

If superintendents were limited to no more than 18 months of job security, after an initial three-year contact, I suspect they would be more respectful and more responsive to board members and district stakeholders.

Venki Palamand

Oakville

Editor’s note: Venki Palamand served three three-year terms on the Mehlville Board of Education, before stepping down in April.