Senator Howie C. Morales: Costly superintendent buyouts can and should be eliminated

BY SEN. HOWIE C. MORALES AND  JESSICA S. MARTINEZ, VETERAN EDUCATOR WITH THE ALBUQUERQUE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT

A contract between public school boards and the superintendents is typically a term of three years nationwide. These contracts typically include a buyout provision should the district find it necessary to terminate the contract for reasons ranging from unsatisfactory performance to violations of the negotiated contract. These buyouts include the annual salary plus the salary of years remaining on the contract. Recent superintendent buyouts have cost New Mexico school districts upwards of $300,000 per occurrence.

Should a superintendent’s contract be terminated, the district must then incur the added expenses associated with finding a replacement. This includes nationwide recruiting by a headhunting agency, travel expenses, compensation of personnel involved in the search, etc.  This process comes at considerable cost to taxpayers and propagates a system that may overlook qualified individuals who have proven their loyalty to their communities through years of service.

It’s important to remember that superintendents are school district employees, as are teachers, custodians, coaches and related service providers.  Contract employees, such as teachers, bear the expectation of annual renewal based on performance. They are not rewarded with buyouts should they fail to meet the obligations of their contract.  In the interest of equity, superintendents cannot and should not be exempt from the requirements assigned to every other district employee. If a superintendent is truly accomplished, they should have no doubt in their ability to get their contract renewed year to year like every other employee.

Although uncommon, a buyout usually occurs when a superintendent fails to meet the terms of their contract. Why are we rewarding such individuals for unsatisfactory performance? If we as educators hold our employees and our students to the highest standards of behavior, why is there one person on the payroll who gets compensation to soften the blow once they fail to meet the expectations of their employer?  The money spent on headhunters and buy-outs could be diverted to the training and mentoring of local educators who aspire to serve and lead our school districts.

By placing superintendents on annual contracts, school districts are no longer forced to excuse poor performance and bad behavior simply because buying out a contract is too cumbersome and expensive.  It will allow school boards to observe and monitor superintendents while retaining the option to renew or renegotiate the contract based on demonstrated ability. This process possesses the additional benefit of refining the applicant pool to attract only those candidates who reflect the highest levels of proven leadership and who are supremely confident in their ability to perform to high standards.

Additionally, by offering one-year contracts to superintendent candidates, boards of education have a greater opportunity to observe and recruit the many highly qualified individuals right in their own back yard.  By hiring these individuals, school districts never have to wonder if they are making a successful hire; these local candidates have already proven their leadership and competence within our communities.

Our schools deserve to have employees who are held to the highest standards of integrity and performance.  They also deserve to have a governing body that is characterized by equity and a willingness to identify the employees who are ready and qualified to serve our communities as demonstrated by their years of exemplary service.

It’s time to stop looking outside of New Mexico for solutions to our problems and time to divert our effort and funding to local recruiters and local candidates. It’s time to stop rewarding bad behavior within our districts and allow school boards to regain control of their hiring procedures, finances and contract negotiations.