The AJC continues to examine the superintendent search in DeKalb schools and why all three finalists withdrew.
In looking at e-mails, the AJC found that the deal breaker for a North Carolina finalist came down to job security. Lillie Cox of Hickory, N.C., wanted due process and severance. DeKalb may have an aversion to generous severance packages as it’s faced public criticism for its payouts to departing superintendents.
Residents were aghast to learn in 2004 that the controversial Johnny Brown left with a $410,000 payout after two years on the job. And indicted school chief Crawford Lewis left with a tidy sum when he was fired a year ago, at least $85,000, four months of his $255,000 annual salary, plus benefits.
I think that school boards are in a hard place. Candidates want salary and severance terms that most residents consider far too lush, especially given the economy. But the AJC story notes that market conditions favor the candidates since so many school systems are now searching for new school chiefs.
Lillie Cox of Hickory, N.C., wanted due process, or the promise that if fired for cause she would have time to go before the school board and respond to the charges against her. Cox withdrew after it appeared the board was not willing to give her the job protection, and after details about negotiations were made public. Cox accepted another job this week in North Carolina for less money but more security.
DeKalb wanted flexibility to fire Cox “for any good and sufficient reason” without having to guarantee her severance; Cox was unwilling to sign onto what her attorney called an “at-will contract.”
Richard A. Schwartz, who represented Cox during negotiations, said DeKalb’s expectations were out of step with industry standard, and warned the board it would have a hard time negotiating with other candidates if unwilling to budge on the termination issue.
“Unless you have someone who is desperate for a position, or is rehabilitating themselves after a prior bad exit, you will be hard-pressed to find a strong candidate who is foolish enough to leave a secure position, move their family and take a contract which provides absolutely no job protection,” he wrote in an April 17 email to the district’s lawyers.
On April 23, Cox withdrew from contention after several attempts to negotiate and after details about her contract demands were leaked to the public. Monday, she was hired by Alamance-Burlington Schools, a North Carolina district where she worked previously. There she’ll earn a base salary of $175,000 compared to the $275,000 offered by DeKalb. Cox’s new contract contains due process rights.
In emails, it appears the board wanted at least two paths to sever ties with Cox, a “convenience” clause, which would allow the board to fire her for no reason with a 12-month severance payout, and another that allowed the board to fire Cox with cause, and pay nothing. Cox’s attorneys wanted to better define the reasons she could be fired under that provision, and to guarantee her a due-process hearing before the board.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog