The four-year employment contract for incoming Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash makes him the highest paid leader of any major urban school district in the state, but does not lay out any specific performance expectations. Those will be set later. Moreover, Cash’s contract includes unusually specific communication procedures designed to prevent individual board members from telling him what to do without official board authorization.
Cash’s $275,000 salary, his asking price and roughly what he made as Memphis superintendent, is not just a record-breaker for Buffalo Public Schools. His salary exceeds the base salary of the state education commissioner and the leaders of giant urban districts like New York City and Chicago. Those leaders, however, receive other compensating perks that Cash won’t be getting. A number of other downstate school districts also pay their superintendents more than Cash. Among major upstate cities, however, Cash’s base salary is the most generous.
Prior Superintendent Pamela Brown and interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie started with base salaries of $217,500.
Board President James Sampson defended Cash’s salary by saying the new superintendent will be facing difficult and complex challenges ahead, particularly related to the issue of school receivership.
“I think if we can create high-quality educational outcomes for these kids, it’s going to be a good investment for this community,” he said.
Cash’s compensation, however, is not the only noteworthy element of his employment contract, which could be official as of Tuesday morning, when the New York State Education Department is expected to grant Cash his superintendent certification.
Among the contract highlights:
• Board communication clause: A detailed section of the contract is devoted to how board members may express “any criticism, complaint or suggestion” or otherwise “give direction” to the superintendent.
Cash’s contract states that criticism and complaints that are the “collective judgment” of the board must be made in writing.
The contract also states that board members “shall not give direction to the superintendent or any District employee ... regarding the management of the district or the solution of specific problems” without official board authorization.
Finally, the contract directs the board to refer any district employee complaints to board members back to the superintendent.
No prior Buffalo superintendent employment contract is known to have ever included such language, a testament to the conflicted and contentious communications that have marked prior dealings between the superintendent and the board.
This clause appears to limit the ability of individual board members to subject the superintendent to individual demands or actively intervene in personnel matters.
• Undetermined performance evaluation: While some superintendent contracts provide explicit parameters for how a superintendent’s work will be judged, Cash’s contract includes only one sentence stating that the adoption of specific performance expectations and measures will be developed through a collaborative process by Sept. 30.
Neither does the employment contract stipulate any raises or bonuses to which the superintendent may be entitled for positive evaluations.
Board member Carl Paladino, who served on the negotiating committee along with Sampson and board member Barbara Seals Nevergold, criticized the fact that Cash was given such a lengthy employment contract term without identifying specific performance goals. He was out of the country when the board approved Cash’s contract and said he attended only one meeting with the board’s negotiating team.
“There’s no standards set for this guy,” Paladino stated. “We’re telling him you’re employed for four years, and we’re not telling him what his job is.”
Sampson said that performance standards will be set soon and that he felt it was more appropriate to have a lengthier discussion with the superintendent and the board about how Cash’s work should be evaluated.
• As previously reported, Cash is eligible for a year’s salary as severance pay should the board decide to terminate his contract without cause. This is the same as what former Superintendent Pamela Brown received and more than what former Superintendent James Williams received.
• Other benefits: Cash is entitled to the same types of health insurance and life insurance that other top-level, non-union administrators receive and will pay 20 percent of any health insurance premium if he does not waive medical coverage. He also receives free transportation or transportation reimbursement and is entitled to “reasonable expenses” for meetings/conferences and other business expenses incurred in connection with his duties. These benefits are not unusual in comparison with other superintendent contracts.
• As is common in other superintendent contracts, the board may consider extending the superintendent’s contract, which will automatically be extended by a year as of June 30, 2017, if the board takes no action.
Cash is expected to preside over this Wednesday’s regular board meeting in his official role. Though this would represent his first public act as superintendent, Cash has been in town for most of the past two weeks getting the lay of the land and meeting people, Sampson said.
But that hasn’t kept him from the hot seat. Paladino has wasted no time harshly criticizing Sampson and Nevergold for their role in negotiating Cash’s contract. He didn’t take issue with how much Cash is being paid, but rather the length of his contract and his one-year buyout package.
He further said that Cash asked for a $275,000 salary and about $30,000 in other employment perks. Nevergold was interested in a lower counteroffer, he said. Paladino, however, was willing to pay Cash a $323,000 annual salary, but only if his contract was limited to one year, possibly two, with a much more modest severance package if the board decided to fire him.
“Why are we going to take a chance and give him a long-term contract?” he said. “Why not give him the money on the front end to give him an incentive.”
Sampson responded that after the negotiating team’s initial meeting, he followed up with electronic communications to Paladino and Nevergold and that all three were in agreement on his salary and one-year severance package for no-fault termination. He added that it would be inappropriate for him to comment in more detail on the nature of contract negotiations with Cash.
Cash deferred comments on his employment contract to Sampson on Monday.
Paladino said he still wants Cash to meet with former superintendent candidates James Weimer and Kevin Eberle, both district principals, and see whether their ideas for district leadership can be adopted by him.
“By the way, I wish him well,” Paladino said of Cash. “I want him to do good.”
To view the employment contract of Cash and his predecessors, visit the School Zone blog at buffalonews.com/schoolzone email: firstname.lastname@example.org