Renegotiating on what grounds?

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Last week, the Franklin City School Board sent out a notice that it will be holding a closed session meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 25, for “A discussion and consideration of the salary, benefits and contract of the school division superintendent.” Because this is a personnel matter, the board is entitled to hold the discussion in a closed session and keep the matter private. If the board makes any changes to the contract of superintendent Dr. Willie Bell, it would be voted on in open session and the new terms of the contract would be made public.

Because the nature of the discussion is still confidential, neither school board members nor the superintendent have been willing to discuss the matter publicly, as is their right. It is not even known at this point which side has initiated what we can only assume is a renegotiation of the terms of the superintendent’s contract. It would be highly unusual for an employer, in this case the school board, to voluntarily negotiate more favorable terms for an employee midway through a contract, although it would be difficult at this point for the members of this particular board to do anything that truly surprises. We are left to speculate that the superintendent himself has initiated this renegotiation.

The current agreement took effect on July 1, 2014, and is set to expire on June 30, 2016. At the halfway point in his contract, it is difficult to imagine the grounds on which Bell feels he is entitled to any sort of raise or increase in benefits. A little more than a year ago, Bell agreed to the terms of his contract, which includes a salary of $110,000 and a standard set of benefits. Since that time, he has requested several hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the school system’s finances afloat. City Council has already given notice that the most recent request for additional funds would come directly out of next year’s appropriations. If there wasn’t enough money to cover payroll for his employees, it’s a stretch to believe there is enough money available to give Bell a raise whether he deserves it or not.

Bear in mind, however, that several members of the current board voted last year to retain Dr. Michelle Belle, the current superintendent’s predecessor, although she had not lived up to the terms the board had set in order for her to keep her job. Given that fact, should the board vote to give the current Dr. Bell a raise we would not be surprised. If it does, however, it would finally be time for the state to step in and clean house.