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2017-12-20 / Featured / Front Page

School Board rewrites superintendent's contract

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


James Lane 
ASH DANIEL James Lane ASH DANIEL The chairman of the Chesterfield County School Board defended its decision last week to scrap Superintendent James Lane’s original four-year contract after less than 18 months and increase his salary, calling it part of the board’s effort to “keep him here as long as we can.”

“It is not unusual to renegotiate a contract in this manner if you are pleased with the performance of an employee and want to demonstrate a commitment to a continued partnership,” Javaid Siddiqi noted in an email. “We wanted to send a message to the community that the School Board and superintendent are a team, and that we believe the path to innovation that we are forging together will enhance our students’ opportunities to experience success.”

Under Lane’s initial contract, his annual compensation was $221,000 – including $190,000 in base salary, a $12,000 car allowance and 10 percent of his base salary in deferred compensation.

On July 1, the superintendent’s one-year anniversary, Lane and all full-time school employees received 2 percent pay increases. That bumped Lane’s total compensation to $225,180.

The car allowance and deferred compensation have been rolled into his base salary in Lane’s new contract, which will run from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021, and pay him $233,529 annually.

That’s roughly 5 percent less than County Administrator Joe Casey’s annual salary of $245,820.

It’s also $40,000 less than former Superintendent Marcus Newsome earned during his final year leading the county’s school system. “I just want to thank the board for this opportunity,” Lane said during last week’s School Board meeting. “I’m humbled. I can’t even begin to tell you the appreciation I have for you renewing your commitment to me and for me to be able to renew my commitment to the children of this community.”

Not everybody was happy with the School Board’s decision. Midlothian resident Rodney Martin called it “atrocious” to renegotiate Lane’s contract less than halfway through his second year on the job. He and fellow citizen watchdog Brenda Stewart also questioned why the school system failed to clearly inform county residents about the pending action prior to the Dec. 12 meeting.

There was an item on the School Board’s agenda titled “Reappointment of the Superintendent,” but unlike all other action items, there was no supporting documentation that indicated Lane would receive a contract extension and salary increase.

“Despite our appeals to you to release the documents so we would know what was being done under that heading tonight, you refused,” Stewart said, saying the School Board’s actions were “a slap in the face” to county taxpayers.

Tim Bullis, a spokesman for Chesterfield County Public Schools, noted via email that a closed session prior to the School Board’s Dec. 12 business meeting pertained to the superintendent’s annual evaluation and included a review of his proposed contract.

“The contract was not available prior to Tuesday because it had not been finalized,” Bullis wrote. Lane came to Chesterfield in July 2016 after serving as superintendent in Goochland and Middlesex counties. He assumed leadership of a large, increasingly diverse school system affected by pockets of rising poverty and an influx of non-English speaking students, particularly along the economically challenged Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.

For the first time, two schools were denied accreditation last year when Ettrick Elementary and Falling Creek Middle failed to reach the minimum threshold on state-mandated standardized tests.

Lane and the School Board allocated additional resources to both schools, which regained accreditation for the 2017-18 school year.

The board last week received a series of recommendations from an equity committee created by Lane to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational opportunities.

Lane also inherited several significant operational challenges, including a chronically underperforming custodial contractor, a school revitalization program beset by delays and cost overruns and a $99 million unfunded liability that threatened to sink the supplemental retirement program for school employees.

Speaking on behalf of the School Board, Siddiqi praised Lane’s “graceful” leadership in identifying solutions for problems he had no role in creating.

“I remember Dr. Lane saying when he was first hired that it was his job to preserve what made Chesterfield County Public Schools great and to enhance our work where possible,” added John Erbach, the board’s vice chairman. “The School Board knew when we hired him that his vision for innovation and his passion for doing what was right for students and staff would help propel our school division to greater heights. Working collaboratively with the board, he is doing just that.”

Some citizens have questioned the optics of renegotiating the superintendent’s contract at a time when the school system is scrambling to find at least $7 million in funding for a new partially outsourced custodial services model, and another $4.1 million to change school start times by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

They also pointed out that while many principals and some central office employees received lucrative salary increases earlier this year, the school system did comparatively little to resolve compression issues in the salary scale for teachers.

Siddiqi noted that while Chesterfield leads the Richmond region on most steps of the teacher salary scale, Lane and the School Board plan to increase teacher pay 10 percent over the next five years.

“We are trending in the right direction. However, we can be even better. As we begin to move beyond the baseline of full accreditation and begin to push our schools to think creatively about the ways they engage students and families, we need a leader who will pursue and encourage innovation in the classroom,” Siddiqi said.

“We need a leader who will build bridges within the community. We need a leader who will stand with the School Board and inspire us to greatness. We are confident Dr. Lane is that leader.” ¦

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