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Candidates split on long contracts for school chiefs

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

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.

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