Buying into buyouts

School Board unsure of what superintendent contract will look like


— The Steamboat Springs School Board learned in August how expensive parting ways with a superintendent can be when board members bought out former Superintendent Donna Howell's contract for $270,000.

New School Board President Robin Crossan said Friday that board members have not discussed what contract terms - including a buyout clause - will be offered to superintendent candidates. But Bob Cito, head of the superintendent search division for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the School Board should take a cue from other Colorado districts.

"You will not find many contracts over three years, and it's rare to revisit the contract until the final year of the contract," he said. "No-cause buyouts are becoming more and more popular in the state, but it's hard to say what the average buyout is like. : Buying out the entire contract wouldn't be the norm. Some people just say, 'Let me get on with my life, and you go on with yours.' Others fight it."

In 2005, after about 18 months on the job, Howell signed a four-year contract extension offered by a previous School Board. The guaranteed contract had no provisions for a no-cause buyout, which led to lengthy negotiations prior to her Aug. 10, 2007, buyout.

"The cost of the buyout is much deeper than monetary amounts that goes out there to the superintendent," said Cito, who is leading one of three search firms bidding to assist the Steamboat Springs School District in its superintendent search.

"It's energy that didn't go into other areas of the school district where it might benefit kids more," he said. "In my opinion - the money is what everybody focuses on - the real cost is to the community and students."

Cito said that with 176 school districts in Colorado, it's inevitable that relationships break down between School Boards and superintendents every year. In Northwest Colorado, the North Park and Summit school districts have also recently endured the turmoil of superintendent buyouts.

Former Summit Superintendent Lynn Spampinato left her job in 2004, citing irreconcilable difference between herself and the School Board, and she received a $210,000 severance.

Millie Hamner, who replaced Spampinato as superintendent after serving as her assistant, said she learned a lesson from her former boss when it was time to negotiate her contract.

"I did specifically say not to have a buyout provision in my contract," she said. "It didn't sit right with me to have taxpayers' money buy out my contract. I have an agreement with the board where we can mutually end agreement with either party."

School Board Member Denise Connelly said her experience in negotiating a buyout with Howell will play a part in how to proceed with the contract of the district's next superintendent.

"I think what we need to do is talk with our attorney and get him involved in the process because the school district's attorney didn't have anything to do with Dr. Howell's contract," she said. "We would get the advise of experienced people and take their advise under consideration."

Crossan said she would not discuss what she hopes to see - contract length, monetary amounts and buyout clauses - in the district's next superintendent.

"Until we all discuss it, I don't have a comment on it one way or another until we decide upon it as a group," she said.

Cito said forging a solid contract isn't as important as hiring a superintendent that best fits the needs of a community.

"If you have a careful search process and you find the right person, you won't have to go through these buyouts," he said.


nondescript1 9 years, 2 months ago

Where was the school district's attorney? Isn't a contract a legal document? Who approved it? A lunch lady? A parent volunteer? A crossing guard? Maybe we could have saved some money for education if the school district's ATTORNEY was involved! How much does the attorney get paid?


id04sp 9 years, 2 months ago

Again, for the 83rd time, I will tell you that a district this size has no need for a high-paid executive at the top. The growth in the cost of public education has been on the administrative side for the past 25 years or more, and money that should have gone to teachers and resources has gone to crap like we've seen in this instance.

Just say, "No!"

Hire contractors to maintain the buildings and vehicles if necessary, and get rid of vested support staff of any sort that does not directly provide education to kids in the classroom.

Howell's buyout easily translates into at least four teachers' salaries.


Pilatus 9 years, 2 months ago

All the consultants are busy out at the airport...


snoman 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow!! The paper is finaly printing what other districts have gone through and lo and behold this district isn't the only one that has bought out a contract! I agree with id that administrative salaries have grown too high for this community. Teachers negotiate as a group to get their raises and the administrators usually get theirs identical to the teachers. If the teachers get 3% then the administrators get 3%. But 3%of $30,000 is not as much as 3% of $89,000, so over time the gap between administrative salaries and teachers has grown and grown! As for the lawyer not checking Howells' contract; my guess would be that it was probably never shown to him. The Stephenson, Gleason, Loomis et al school board acted on their own to give the district a situation with no superintendant accountability. And this last school board took all the heat for a decision that wasn't theirs. AND the last school board were also very strong supporters of increased teacher compensation while holding administrative salaries a little more in line with the cost of living only. Now there is a new Board with a new president who can't make a comment on a contract. Is it, perhaps, because she is a novice at this and has no previous school board experience? Or is it because the reality of what it takes to volunteer your time as a school board member is actually much more difficult once you are on the inside than it is to just complain from the outside?


localroots 9 years, 2 months ago

Kudos snoman! I agree with your synopsis of the past situation with the Stephenson, Gleason, et al school board. Wanna make a bet that Donna used HER own attorney to broker the BIG bucks deal and that school board didn't even have the common sense to show it to the school board attorney before they gave her what she wanted! As for our present BOE President "novice" is a kind word for someone who never wants to make a public comment that could be considered controversial or maybe she has to first check with the A and C BOE members and/or the Rotary gang that helped get the ABC's elected before she issues a comment to the paper.


handyman 9 years, 2 months ago

id04sp - How would contractors be better than hiring employees? I think that most employees are not contracted. They can be released at will. Are the general support staff in the school district tenured? My husband is a support staff and he isn't a union member, contracted, vested or tenured. He can be fired without any buy-out. Most contractors demand a higher hourly rate of pay because they receive no benefits.


id04sp 9 years, 2 months ago


The principals should have all the expertise necessary to conduct the educational activities. What does a high-paid superintendent add to the mix?

I'm not talking about hiring contractors to replace the folks who maintain the facilities, although it might be cheaper in the long run. I'm talking about high-paid administrators in a central office who "manage" the schools below them.

This whole controversy is about the fact that school board members need a paid superintendent to administer the system for them. The whole salary-creep issue for administrators is out of hand. People have created titles and positions to perform tasks that can be done by people willing to work for far less money. The salaries have been artificially inflated far in excess of the value actually brought into the educational system.


handyman 9 years, 2 months ago

id04sp - I remember watching how the "middle-, upper-management" of the school system kept getting bigger and bigger when I was younger. I agree with you. Look at any governmental or quasi-governmental agency. Aren't they all pretty fat in the middle and upper areas? I know! Let's be exiting CEOs in the private sector and take severance packages of $100s of millions at the expense of the retirement plans.


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