Several school board challengers decry — while incumbents mostly defend — the five-year contracts secured by both of Evanston’s school superintendents.

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District 65 challenger Eileen Budde said long contracts are a bad practice in general and a bad decision in this instance.

But D65 Board President Keith Terry said Superintendent Hardy Murphy has met all the performance criteria set by the board and the contract helps “tie the superintendent to the district’s visionary new strategic plan.

The other two District 65 challengers, J.B. Rees and Richard Rykhus, also said at Thursday’s candidate forum at Haven Middle School that they opposed long contracts, with Rykhus calling it “fiscally irresponsible and a sign of poor board governance.”

He suggested the superintendent’s contract should be limited to about two years, instead.

Rykhus also criticized the board’s decision to let Murphy accumulate unused sick leave time without limitation — adding to future liabilities for taxpayers, and what he described as an automobile stipend that he said lacks any constraints.

Incumbent Katie Bailey said long-term contracts are needed in some instances as a recruiting tool or reward.

Bailey, who has voted for the five-year contract terms in the past, voted against it the last time the issue came up. She says she “saw no reason for the most recent extension.”

Evanston Township High School board incuments Mark Metz and Jane Colleton defended the five-year pact they’ve given Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

Colleton said the district is on the right path. “We want that to continue and want the superintendent to be with us.”

Metx said there aren’t a lot of reasons to extend a contract early, but that he voted for this one “because I wanted to send a clear message that the changes we’ve embarked on aren’t going away any time soon.”

District 202 challenger Jonathan Baum, who says he voted against a number of superintendent contract extensions while he served on the District 65 board, said he believes “long contracts are the enemy of accountability.”

ETHS challenger Richard “Scott” Rochelle declined an opportunity to comment on the issue, and challenger Cherie Hansen missed the forum because of a family emergency.

The five-year contracts mean the superintendent has more job security than the school board members to be elected to four-year terms this spring. And the board would not be able to replace a superintendent for poor performance without having to negotiate payment for the lengthy uncompleted term of his contract.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Vote out all school board incumbents!

    Yes, the long-term contract extensions for Murphy and Witherspoon were done in poor taste and are fiscally irresponsible since both districts faced financial difficulties and teacher layoffs.

    The D65 and D202 boards have not been listening to many concerned parents such as myself and ignored them for the most part. In return, I think many parents including myself will ignore these incumbent board members in April by voting in a fresh group who will listen to parents.

    I still remember when D65 suddenly without discussion changed the school hours. My wife and I were appalled watching the D65 school board members including Terry and Bailey  try and explain the change. They were insensitive to the problems the change caused. Terry said the change worked for his family since his wife was home. But he never bothered to acknowledge the concerns of working parents.

    Let's not forget Hardy Murphy's racial accusations against a respected D65 board member Tracy Quatrocki during a public meeting, D65 then took the video of the incident off of YouTube, claiming it had copyrights. Someone at D65 didn't want the public to see the verbal attack. 

    Let's not forget the unanimous decision by the D202 to eliminate freshmen honors only because there were too many "white faces." The D202 board eliminated these elite classes without taking into consideration a petition with the names of more than 450 parents who opposed the measure and only asked that the Board  wait until a three-year pilot program was complete and could be discussed. 

    Just ask yourself, are D202 and D65 better off today than four years ago? I say no, and I will vote for change – Budde, Rees, Baum and Hansen.

    1. In addition to recruiting and

      In addition to recruiting and retaining talented superintendents, there are other legitimate reasons to grant a superintendent a long term contract.  Primarily, if you want to enable him to take some risks in setting long term plans for the district which would reasonably take several years to bear fruit, you want him focused on that long term strategy rather than on his own short term job security.  However, if you do so, you (the board) should have a plan in place up front for how his performance will be assessed and when contract renewal or extension will be discussed.  Presumably, you would want to give him the space to take those risks for the benefit of the district and its students, so you would not even bring up renewal or extension until the third or fourth year of a five-year contract. 

      If you decide performance measures after the fact, whether initiated by board members or the superintendent, there is no reason to think that this was the reason for a long term contract.  If you keep tacking an additional year on the end of the contract term at each annual review period, and you do so at the annual request of the superintendent, it would be reasonable for us voters to conclude that the superintendent rather than the board is driving both the long term strategy and the contract discussions.  And if you vote to extend the contract each year with minimal public notice, it is hard for us voters to see where any accountability lies other than at the ballot box.

      Of course, if we voters keep re-electing board members with a track record of repeated annual extensions of the superintendent's five year contracts, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    2. Big difference between Bailey and Terry

      Bailey is one of the two incumbants on the D65 board who has voted against extending Hardy Murphy's contract.  Keith Terry, on the other hand, has supported him and before voting to extend his contract in Fall of 2007, insinuated that those who opposed the extension were racist.  The specifics are in the regular board meeting from Sept. 2007 if you want to get the DVD.  He said that the fact that there was public resistance to extending Hardy Murphy's contract, but not the D202's contract extension, which was happening at the same time implied there was a "double standard".  By the context and common use of the phrase I took that to mean that the double standard was attributable to attitudes regarding race.

      Keith Terry is a race card playing shill for Hardy Murphy.  I base that on his actions, not the fact that he is an incumbent.

      1. Katie Bailey said the exact

        Katie Bailey said the exact same thing in the very video clip that is attached to this story.  She begins her comments by noting that the D65 was scrutinized and criticized for extending Dr. Murphy's contract but the D202 board was not for their identical contract extension at the exact same time.  So by your standards, Katie Bailey is playing the race card too.  It's amazing that in this diverse and tolerant community in this day and age that neither Keith Terry nor Dr. Murphy can open their mouths without someone accusing them of playing the race card.  Just because they are black doesn't mean they are playing the race card in every single debate.  Close your eyes, open your ears and open your mind just a tiny bit.  Then maybe you'll realize that there is absolutely no difference between Katie Bailey and Keith Terry.  They are both effective D65 board members who are doing a great job for our school district and I plan to support both of them.  

        1. Bailey and Terry

          Katie Bailey voted against extending Hardy Murphy's contract two times.  I would say that is an important difference between the two.  Not at all what you say:  "…there is absolutely no difference between Katie Bailey and Keith Terry."

          1. Actually, there are a lot of

            Actually, there are a lot of differences between Katie Bailey and Keith Terry. Though I wouldn't question either's commitment to the district, Ms. Bailey said at the CSNA/Haven candidate forum that she voted for the first contract extension, but voted against the most recent one. She said that she felt the timing was inappropriate — right after the district was RIFfing nearly 60 teachers and staff members, extending Dr. Murphy's contract was irresponsible and unnecessary. I happen to agree with her, and want to see her continue on the board this coming term.

  2. many thanks

    Thanks to the people who are taking the time to video these events, edit them down, and put all of these videos on youtube.  Thanks also to Evanston Now for posting them.  Lots of us very involved folks have so many nights of volunteer activities and responsibilities that we can't get to all these events (if we ever want to see our family!) but we want to be informed voters.  These videos to help us decide (not just the 2 hour video of the whole thing, but all the candidates on the same (important) issue.  

  3. For the sake of long term

    For the sake of long term stability, especially when you are talking about a school system, why wouldn't you want the leader of your organization to have a long term contract?  I have yet to hear anyone who was opposed to Dr. Murphy's contract extension explain why it was a bad thing for District 65 students and teacher to have consistency and stability going forward.  Certain parents don't like his personality and think that as a result, his contract should not have been extended.  If that was the standard – a parent dislikes a superintendent's personality and wants to get rid of him or her – we'd never have a superintendent last more than a year.  Let's be honest and look at Dr. Murphy's results rather than his personality when evaluating the job he's done. You cannot deny that the District's numbers on all tests are improving, and that the district is closing the gap between white students and minorities. 

    What the time change has to do with all of this, I'm not sure.  Every study that's ever been done regarding the start time for elementary school age children confirms that the later the start time, the better the student performance.  It has nothing to do with the convenience of the working family.  It has to do with the amount of sleep that children get and their ability to focus in class.  It is not Keith Terry's or Dr. Murphy's job to worry about your work schedule and your child care needs.  It is their job to help our students do better, and the later start time was a step in the right direction.  Both parents in our household work as well, and while an earlier start time was definitely more convenient for us, I'm glad that board moved the start time later because it is better for my children's academic performance.

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