A divided School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted this week to fast track Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon from an interim employee to a full-time employee with a $15,000 raise after three months on the job.
The new contract, which SBAC Chair Leanetta McNealy said she crafted with board attorney David Delaney, will be effective on July 1, 2021. It includes a salary of $175,000 and runs through June 30, 2023.
At the March 16 regular meeting, board members Dr. Gunnar Paulson and Robert Hyatt raised concerns about extending Simon's contract into 2023 and the elevated salary. Hyatt offered an amendment to keep the salary at $160,000 and end on Dec. 31, 2022.
"Adding an extra six months isn't necessary," Hyatt said. "It's not in line with past practice, something we've never done for anyone new."
Hyatt said his comments were not directed at Simon specifically.
"These comments are not about the superintendent, they are about the board which I am proud to be a part of," Hyatt said. "We were choosing an interim superintendent, we had four days. We came up with a list and the board chose Dr. Simon. And shortly after, the interim was dropped, and we go with superintendent."
Hyatt said the vetting process was sidestepped and a drastic salary increase sends the wrong message to district employees who are not receiving raises.
"We have an employee, our number one employee, who is charged with awesome responsibilities and, after three and a half months of service to the district, this contract proposes a 9.14 percent pay increase," Hyatt said. "It would be different if we could go to our bus drivers, or our teachers, or our paras, or our food service workers and say 'good times, you're all getting 9.14 percent' [raises], but we aren't."
Paulson seconded the motion and started to comment when he was cut off by Chair McNealy and told no discussion was warranted.
McNealy was then corrected by a staff member who said, "It would be appropriate for discussion on the amendment before there's a vote on the amendment."
Paulson said he agreed with Hyatt's amendments and referred to previous recent superintendent starting salaries which ranged from $136,000 to $160,000.
"Especially this year, the money is not there for everybody to get money," Paulson said. "It's in poor taste of the board to do this."
Paulson said extending the contract through 2023 would run past the upcoming elections of three board members in 2022 and prevent them from having a say in evaluating the superintendent.
"It's not against Dr. Simon," Paulson said. "I hope she'll do a great job, but we don't know that yet."
Paulson said the messaging of the decision is important: "The leader leads by example, and we are the leaders. If we do this, it's a slap in the face to a lot of our employees."
McNealy told the board that she sat down with the attorney and Simon "to pull this contract together, so it's got my whole thought on this document."
The board voted 3-2 to approve the contract with Paulson and Hyatt in dissent.
According to ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson, former Superintendent Karen Clarke's starting salary on July 1, 2017 was $160,000 and Clarke's ending annual salary in 2020 was $169,793.
When the SBAC decided to not keep Clarke on through her resignation date, the board issued a salary payout for Clarke in the amount of $67,376. Clarke also left the district with a vacation leave payout of $64,680.96 and sick leave payout of $95,572.86.