Madison County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Eberhardt has had his employment contract extended through June 2018 following a one-year contract extension approved by the school board earlier this fall.
Following an almost two-hour closed session at the Oct. 12 meeting, the board voted 4-1 to cancel the existing contract, which was set to end June 30, 2017 and to reappoint Eberhardt to a three-year term beginning that night and ending June 30, 2018. According to board chairman James Nelson, no other change was made. Eberhardt’s current salary remains $123,615 before benefits.
“It’s a vote of confidence in the superintendent,” Nelson said. “From the superintendent’s view, it’s nice to have a little job security rather than wait [until the contract is up]. We’re pleased with Eberhardt and wanted to keep him around.”
The vote came three weeks before the Nov. 3 election of two new school board members—Karen Allen and Bob Chappell. They replace current board members Nelson and Tonya Taylor who chose not to run again. Allen and Chappell will take office Jan. 1, 2016.
Code 22.1-60 of the Code of Virginia prohibits a school board from renegotiating a superintendent’s contract “during the period following the election or appointment of new members and the date such members are qualified and assume office,” or in this case, the local school board’s November and October meetings.
Nelson acknowledged the law, which he said is to prevent an old board from binding a new board to its decision, but said technically this didn’t do that since it falls outside of the two prohibited months. He said normally, the board would have made the decision to extend the contract in June or July in accordance with the superintendent’s evaluation, but said the board was finishing a new evaluation format during that time.
The new evaluation, based on the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) revised guidelines for uniform performance standards and evaluation criteria for superintendents, was finalized during the summer after several board worksessions on the matter. It features a more collaborative format with the superintendent choosing goals he’d like to focus on during the year. It also features seven set performance standards he must meet ranging from planning to division-wide student academic progress.
Nelson said cancelling the old contract and issuing a new one is a very common practice throughout the state. He also said the decision wasn’t some “deep, dark secret” and the vote was taken in public.
“Negotiating the superintendent’s contract is what school boards do,” he said. “It probably should have been done in July, but we didn’t get to it.”
The lone dissenting vote in the matter came from board member Barry Penn Hollar. He said he had a different perspective than his fellow board members.
“I didn’t think [renegotiating the contract] was appropriate at the last meeting in which to do that, especially given that the time to do that [should have been as] part of the evaluation process,” he said. “[However], I fully support the board’s decision and will work with the board and Dr. Eberhardt going forward to do what’s best for the children.”
Penn Hollar agreed with Nelson that cancelling the existing contract and reissuing a new one extending the term is a typical practice around the state. He also agreed that it wasn’t something that the board tried to hide, although he acknowledged that a better communication strategy with the public is needed going forward.
“I don’t think there was any attempt to hide this, but I don’t think we [were] aggressive in getting the word out,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Eberhardt’s contract has been extended. He was hired in April of 2010 for a four-year term beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2014. The motion to hire was made by Nelson and seconded by Doreen Jenkins, who is also currently on the board. It was approved unanimously at a salary of $110,000.
At the February 11, 2013 meeting, the contract from 2010 was terminated effective June 30, 2013 and Eberhardt was appointed to a four-year term beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2017. The motion was made by Nelson and seconded by then-board member Martin Boone. The motion was unanimously approved. No salary details were included in the board minutes. The new contract extends the 2013 one by one year.