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September 27, 2013 10:21:34 AM
Temporary interim superintendent Edna McGill will continue leading the city school system through the end of next month, despite not receiving a pay raise she asked for.
Confusion and tension reigned at a special meeting of the Columbus Municipal School Board Thursday morning.
The meeting was originally called to amend a resolution on McGill's contract. The motion passed 4-0 but confusion immediately ensued as the board struggled to understand why a resolution was necessary. Apparently, when McGill was hired by the board in June she was never issued an official contract by the board or board attorney David Dunn. However, McGill did sign a one-page agreement outlining her employment with the district. The agreement was signed by McGill and Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon and had an end date of Sept. 30.
Board attorney David Dunn apologized for the error but could not offer an explanation for the lack of an official contract for McGill. While the board did not enter into an official contract, minutes from the June meeting reflect that McGill was to be paid $88,000 annually.
Board president Jason Spears noted former superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell was earning an annual salary of $135,600 and said he felt McGill should be paid the same as her predecessor. Shannon earns $120,000 and Federal Programs Director Anthony Brown earns $93,000. Shannon and Brown are directly under McGill.
McGill said it was her understanding that her contract and salary would be renegotiated by Sept. 30. McGill said she agreed to the $88,000 salary because of the urgency to fill the vacant seat and her love of the district.
Board member Aubra Turner told McGill that she was not saying she did not deserve the money, but was hesitant to approve a raise for a temporary interim.
McGill responded that she would agree to $135,600 and not ask for an increase if she was voted interim. Spears asked board members how they felt about the number and the room fell quiet. When Spears asked what number would work, McGill offered a suggestion of $130,000. Glenn Lautzenhiser disagreed, saying McGill deserved the same salary as Liddell had made in her original contract.
Lautzenhiser then made a motion to hire McGill as temporary interim at a rate of $135,600 annually. Spears made the second.
When asked if there was any discussion, Turner said, "I've expressed my concerns. I believe in doing things in a procedure and doing it correctly and where it looks like we have that transparency. Its just, to do that, to just jump from this to that, what kind of message does that send out to the public? Just jumping salary like that and there is no cause behind that reason to justify doing that. It seems like we're just throwing money out there."
If McGill is chosen interim, Turner said she would agree to renegotiate the salary saying, "The sky's the limit when that time comes but until then..."
Spears agreed with Turner and withdrew his second and asked Lautzenhiser if he withdrew his motion. Lautzenhiser said no and asked why Spears withdrew his second.
Turning to McGill, Spears asked if she was willing to continue on at $88,000.
"I understood in the initial offer that that was literally temporary until the end of September," she said. "So, and I was fine with that but to continue on, I will have to come out of retirement and it was never my understanding that I would continue under that rate."
"It was fine, I was glad to do it at that amount based on the rationale that was presented," she said.
With her understanding that her contract would be renegotiated, McGill said she felt asking for a salary increase was fair.
"I do think it's fair to ask the board to reconsider because I do love this district and I have worked 12- and 14-hour days since I got here to try and stabilize this district and to help us move forward," she said. "I really want that to happen. Just so you know, it was my true understanding of the situation that night."
Spears replied, "One of the major reasons that I withdrew is, it's more than frustrating to sit here and for us to continue to battle one another because of other agendas that are at play right now. It's even more frustrating in the sense that when Mrs. McGill came in in the emergency period she did, she picked up a budgeting process that had not even started yet and worked to assemble people and worked with the management team so that we would be compliant and to get things put together.
"Secondly, she walked into a district that was on the very, I mean toes -- on the edge of the ledge falling into the abyss, of going on probation, and she worked tirelessly -- at a lower rate might I add -- to make sure all the documents were fulfilled and provided with the state to pull this district out of being on probation with the other management team.
"And yet we sit here in judgment because we have other forces acting on us, basically saying, 'Oh, we don't want you to do that because we want to get our way.' I'm not pointing fingers at one person or the other at all. I'm saying is that we as a board are not subject to the wills of everyone else. We are basically subject to the wills of the students, the wills of the taxpayers. All I'm asking is that we move forward on acting so that we can continue to create stability within our district and if you don't want to do that, just say it. Quit acting like you're doing something that you're not. I mean that as wholeheartedly as I can speak it because this back and forth, up and down, side to side shenanigans must stop."
After a moment of silence from the board, Spears added, "Lets quit all the side battles and different things and let's just move forward. If you don't like the salary amount that's fine but speak up."
Board member Angela Verdell responded to Spears by saying, "I agree with you. Every second that we spend on an administrative decisions that we have to make is taking time away from focusing on our students, on our test scores, on what our teachers need, what to move the student success rate -- so I agree with you."
The board then voted on Lautzenhiser's motion to approve paying McGill $135,600.
Turner and Verdell objected to a pay increase for McGill and the motion died 2-2. Board member Currie Fisher was absent from the meeting.
Lautzenhiser then asked Turner and Verdell what their "magic number" would be regarding McGill's salary.
"Is 5,000 the difference in approving this?" he asked. "Is 130 going to make this thing go forward? What is the magic number to make this thing go forward?"
Turner said she was not prepared to vote on a new salary for McGill, adding that she thought the sole purpose of the meeting was to approve a resolution.
Verdell then motioned to continue paying McGill a salary of $88,000 with Turner seconding the motion. That motion also died 2-2, with Spears and Lautzenhiser opposed.
"Were back to square one on this," Spears said.
Lautzenhiser added that McGill's contract date expires Monday. "Let me just point out that Sept. 30 is almost upon us. We've got to do something moving forward and we only have a few days to do it. "
Turner replied, "Why do you all keep bringing up Sept. 30? There's no end date. We just did a resolution saying this is not the correct contract."
Lautzenhiser, Spears and Dunn said the contract resolution clarified McGill's contract was not executed properly and McGill's contract would start again October 1.
In a seemingly unrelated note, Verdell then asked McGill what would happen to the board if the superintendent "were to become ill." McGill said the board would determine who would take over the district and Verdell dropped the matter.
The board was again quiet for a moment before Lautzenhiser asked, "What are we going to do? Come Oct. 1 we're not going to have anyone in charge of the district."
McGill spoke up, asking board members to reconsider a salary of $130,000. Responding to Lautzenhiser's question, McGill said, "I beg you to not put the district in that position. We have reached a level of stability and the wheels are moving forward and in the best interest of this district, the community and the children, I ask you to consider what was understood by me, and I understand the minutes show something different but it's my understanding that the end of September we would be able to slow down and reconsider this position and the guidelines imposed on me at that time. I think the salary proposed is fair considering the responsibly and work load and the benefits of having the district remain in a stable condition."
The board continued a back and forth exchange before going into executive session to discuss a matter regarding Dr. Liddell's termination hearing.
When the board returned from executive session, Spears asked once again to discuss the matter of McGill's salary. McGill said she would agree to continue working at a rate of $88,000 annually until the end of October. The matter will be discussed again before Oct. 31.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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