School board extends superintendent's contract

School board extends superintendent's contract

Michele Ellson

The school board on Tuesday extended Superintendent Kirsten Vital’s contract for an additional year, members said, to provide some continuity in the district office as the district seeks to create and fund a plan for the future of its facilities in the face of major changes to the way schooling is delivered and paid for.

The contract addendum approved Tuesday night extends Vital’s contract to serve as Alameda Unified’s top official through July 1, 2016. It also suspends bonus pay she had been eligible for until it’s offered to other district employees and, in 2015, eliminates the full health care coverage she receives and replaces it with the same benefits the rest of the district’s employees get.

“I implore you to really take a look at understanding the value of keeping a superintendent who has worked really hard for us, who is committed, and who has had long range views,” said board member Margie Sherratt, one of four who voted for the extension. “You may not always agree with her – she’s a driver, you know? I don’t always agree with her, by any means. But I never have questioned her passion or her commitment to the students of this district, or the employees.”

Trish Spencer voted against the contract extension, saying that she thought it was premature to consider extending the superintendent’s contract past its existing 2015 ending date.

“I think there has been harm to our district. I think there is daily harm to our teachers, parents, and students,” Spencer said. “I think this is a divisive action.”

Some speakers at Tuesday’s meeting sided with Spencer, saying they, too, felt the board should wait until next year’s election, in which two school board seats will be up for grabs. They said the board’s earlier renewal of the superintendent’s contract sparked dissension in the community and that they feared the extension the board considered Tuesday could have the same effect.

“If you expect to pull this community together for a bond, this is not the time to extend the contract,” retired teacher Connie Turner said.

But others said they think Vital is doing a good job and that her contract should be extended.

“I strongly support this superintendent, and the work she’s doing with this school district,” said former board member Ron Mooney, who credited Vital for the district’s rising enrollment and test scores and the creation and implementation of a master plan.

Both supporters and opponents of the contract extension raised the recent exodus of senior district office staff as support for their respective positions, with opponents blaming Vital for their departure and supporters saying she is needed to provide consistency that would otherwise be lacking. The district’s assistant superintendent and general counsel left over the summer and its chief business officer departed earlier this month; the district is on its third human resources director in three years, and other positions have also gone vacant.

“Everybody’s been leaving. Obviously there’s something wrong,” said Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris, who said teachers were questioning why the superintendent’s contract is being renegotiated now.

But Alameda Education Foundation board member Anne DeBardeleben said Vital isn’t to blame for the wave of staff departures.

“I’ve gotten to know several if not all (of the senior staff) who left recently. Their statements with regard to the superintendent were always very high, and they spoke very highly of her,” DeBardeleben said. “I would be quite surprised to hear that (she) was the reason that any of them left.”

Board member Barbara Kahn said extending Vital’s contract will give whoever is on the board after next November’s election the chance to work with her – and to decide whether to renew her contract outright.

“Sometimes politically you come up with a solution that may not meet everybody’s criteria, but it achieves (our goals),” she said. “I think this extension accomplishes that.”