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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

School board addresses contract discrepancy


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Hernando County School Board gave direction to contract negotiators at a special meeting Tuesday regarding a $10,000 discrepancy in incoming superintendent Lori Romano’s contract, as well as other fringe benefits.

Chairman Matt Foreman, who was tasked by the board to enter into contract negotiations with board attorney Dennis Alfonso and Executive Director of Business Services Heather Martin, initially offered Romano a salary amount of $101,000, or $1,000 more than the base pay advertised for the position.

However, during the second round of negotiations, the district offered Romano a compensation package salary of $115,000 for a two-year term with several fringe benefits, which Alfonso said was the bottom line he wanted the board to consider.

“We did come to some level of comfort for life insurance, medical insurance, with health insurance for her and reimbursement up to $833 per month for her husband and family,” Alfonso said. “They negotiated down $3,500 for the relocation package, and up to $500 per month for telephone and car allowance.”

The district’s $115,000 offer was countered by Romano for $125,000, or a total package of $150,000 annually with fringe benefits, which Foreman said was $10,000 more than he was comfortable with.

The state standard for elected superintendent positions is $123,500. The Hernando County superintendent position was advertised at an annual salary of $100,000-$130,000, not including fringe benefits, which would be negotiated separately.

“This is not a comfortable conversation,” said Foreman, who has had to wear two hats: one as board member and another as contract negotiator. “As your negotiator … I would encourage the board to stay put, but that’s me.”

Alfonso also said the $10,000 difference struck him during negotiations as “a deal breaker” for Romano.

He also described the negotiations as being somewhere between boxing gloves and roses, but respectful and business-like.

Board member Gus Guadagnino made the motion for contract negotiators to proceed with what they hoped would be the final round of negotiations, with a starting pay of $115,000 for Romano and a $5,000 increase for the two years thereafter. She would begin her prospective second term at $125,000.

That motion passed 4-1, with board member Cynthia Moore dissenting.

“In my opinion she does not even meet the qualifications of a principal in Hernando County,” Moore said. “I do not agree with the salary. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Other main issues Foreman and Alfonso wished to gauge the board’s opinion on before re-entering contract negotiations concerned:

Romano’s request to reverse two specifications outlined in the two most recent superintendents’ contracts concerning termination of employment, which was to have a pre-determination of cause meeting where she could cross-examine witnesses prior to the board’s super-majority vote, or a 4-1 vote to terminate her contract. Currently, such a meeting takes place after only a majority, or 3-2 vote to terminate a superintendent’s contract.

Romano also requested that, should the board cast a super-majority vote of 4-1 and find cause to terminate her contract, that she not be liable to pay a liquidated damage provision of up to $25,000 for the district’s efforts to replace her, as is specified in current and past superintendent contracts.

In the contract presented to Romano, examples cited as cause for termination of employment include malfeasance, incompetence, corruption and immorality.

“This super-majority thing bothers me tremendously,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t go along with that for anything.”

Alfonso also said Romano’s request to have a super-majority vote terminate her employment was also of most concern, since it was so different from past superintendent contracts.

“I didn’t feel comfortable making that decision without action of the board,” he said.

Alfonso said he wasn’t asking for a specific motion for the board, so much as consensus on the language of Romano’s requests, and that he’d like to have a contract agreement for approval at the next school board meeting.

Board members Dianne Bonfield, John Sweeney, Guadagnino and Foreman approved the district proceeding into potentially the last round of negotiations with the above language Romano requested, and with strongest support expressed in that order.

Following the 4-1 vote, both Alfonso and Foreman said they had sufficient direction to proceed.

(352) 544-5271

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