Friday, October 4, 2013

Barber contract valued at $680K

School District still mum on terms of separation agreement

Express Staff Writer

Lonnie Barber

     The Blaine County School District released information on Wednesday showing that the value of former Superintendent Lonnie Barber’s contract was about $680,000 at the time of his termination from the district at the end of September.

     The total value includes 33 months of salary that Barber would have received under his contract with the district, plus unused dollars from his benefit package.

     How much of that $680,000 Barber will receive per the settlement agreement remains unknown to the public, as the district and the board of trustees have declined at this time to release the information.

     The Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday filed a formal Idaho public records request with the district seeking release of the agreement. Under Idaho law, the district has three working days to either approve or deny the request. School board members previously stated that they believed they could withhold the document for public release because it deals with personnel issues.

     The document also deals with public money since the district is almost entirely funded with public tax dollars.

     Trustees Kathy Baker and Kathryn Graves told the Express earlier this week that the settlement agreement would be released at a later time. It is being withheld now, they said, so that it won’t “undermine” settlement negotiations between the district and Seattle-based McKinstry Essention in multimillion-dollar litigation involving a payment dispute for energy-savings work and other improvements at eight district schools and facilities.

John Blackman

     The Express on Wednesday published incorrect information regarding Barber’s annual salary in both a news story and an editorial. At the time of his termination from the district, Barber’s annual salary was $186,526 and not about $160,000 as earlier stated.

     The Express requested the current salary information from the district in writing on Monday but did not receive a response until after close of business Tuesday. Furthermore, contracts of certified staff, including Barber, can be found at the district website under the “finance” tab. However, the information is not current and the contracts available for review are for the 2011-12 school year.

     Barber’s annual salary at the end of the 2012-13 school year, which officially ended on July 1, was $158,575. Interim Superintendent John Blackman on Wednesday explained why the salary jumped nearly $28,000 for the 2013-14 school year. He said Barber received a 4.25 percent pay increase for the year, with 1.25 percent coming from school board approval earlier in the year of an increase of that amount for all staff, including administrators. The additional 3 percent is attributable to an administrator contract clause that provides an automatic 3 percent pay increase every other year.

     The 4.25 percent pay raise increased Barber’s annual salary by just over $6,700.

     Blackman said the remainder of the increase was from a $21,000 annual payment by the district to a 401(a) retirement account for Barber. Blackman said district policy allows an employee to take that money instead as salary, with the requirement that it be used in a retirement account of the employee’s choosing.

     “It’s not costing the district any more money than it was before,” Blackman said.

     Barber, who received a one-year extension to his contract by unanimous school board vote in March, was contracted to be superintendent until July 1, 2016.

     Blackman said the $680,000 value of Barber’s contract was arrived at by adding 33 months of unpaid salary and unused benefits, including health insurance, a $250,000 life insurance policy, vacation and sick leave and an annual $21,210 district-paid contribution on Barber’s behalf to the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, typically referred to as PERSI.

     The district board of trustees has still been vague on the reasons for Barber’s termination. On Monday, Baker and Graves explained that there was a difference in philosophy between the board and Barber but declined to explain that difference. However, the board members provided additional information Tuesday.

     “What that means to our board is that there is a difference in leadership philosophy, approach and style,” Baker said.

     “The relationship between the board and the superintendent is crucial for the success of the district, and a positive culture is vital to the students’ success,” Graves said.

     Both board members declined to elaborate further. Barber has thus far declined to comment on the matter.

     Barber’s separation from the district became effective Tuesday. Blackman, who was previously assistant superintendent and director of human resources, became interim superintendent on that day. Blackman’s current annual salary is $127,233.

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