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No pay hike for Murphy in contract extension

After listening to 13 parents plead with them not to do it, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board voted 5-2 Monday night to extend the contract of Superintendent Hardy Murphy by one year so it continues to run five years into the future.

But, for the second year in a row, Murphy’s contract does not call for a pay hike next year.

After listening to 13 parents plead with them not to do it, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board voted 5-2 Monday night to extend the contract of Superintendent Hardy Murphy by one year so it continues to run five years into the future.

But, for the second year in a row, Murphy’s contract does not call for a pay hike next year.

Voting for the extension were Board President Keith Terry, Kim Weaver, Andrew Pigozzi, Bonnie Lockhart, and Jerome Summers. Voting against were Tracy Quattrocki and Katie Bailey.

The parents who testified, backed up by more than 60 vocally enthusiastic supporters in the audience, focused their comments in four areas: performance reviews, timing, the economy, and fiscal responsibility.

Performance reviews. While none of the parents specifically questioned the performance of the superintendent, many of them expressed doubt as to whether the board had established performance goals in advance and had measured the superintendent’s performance against those goals.

Asked one: “What are the performance criteria?” Another noted that performance goals are generally specified at the beginning of each school year and that a long-term contract represents a positive evaluation of “goals that haven’t even been written yet.”

Timing. Because Murphy’s current contract was extended last year to June 30, 2014, many of the parents questioned whether another extension should be granted this early.

Said one: “We should consider (a contract renewal) a year before the current contract expires.” Another said that three years out should be sufficient. Still others noted that his contract will expire after the term of board members that are elected next year.

The Economy. In an uncertain economy, with unemployment at a high level and with state finances perilous, parents who testified questioned whether it was prudent to pay a specific salary five years into the future.

A couple of them were quick to note that the city of Evanston’s department heads, including the city manager, were actually taking a 5 percent pay cut. “This is a slap in the face of those who have lost their jobs,” said one parent.

Fiscal Responsibility. Because the district is projecting large budget deficits for 2012 and 2013, some parents said the board was acting recklessly in guaranteeing the superintendent’s salary. “Committing to a five- year contract exposes Evanston taxpayers to significant and unnecessary risk,” declared one parent.

After hearing the public comments, Weaver moved that the contract extension be granted.

Weaver, who voted yes, said that the board regularly evaluates the superintendent’s performance when they discuss personnel issues in executive session.

She also defended the timing issue, saying that “June is the natural time to do a review. You can put it on the calendar for next year,” she said. She expressed confidence that Murphy is moving the district in the right direction.

Quattrocki, who voted no, said Murphy “should not have asked for an extension at this time.” She noted that city officials had taken a pay cut and that the superintendent “has often talked about shared sacrifice. We are sending the wrong message to our teachers and to the community.”

She said she had received 150 emails from constituents on this issue “and not one of them is in favor” of a contract extension.

Pigozzi, who voted yes, said he has a problem with short-term contracts. Knowing that the superintendent will be around for the next five years is a benefit to the district, he declared, and that it is not good to have a “parade of superintendents” that stay for a short time and then exit.

His assertion that “it is not easy to find a superintendent in this market right now” was met with a negative reaction from some in the audience. “I am sympathetic to the public’s point of view,” he said, “but I think it is the wise thing to do.”

Terry, who voted yes, said the district has benefited tremendously from the stability of a long-term contract. “Dr. Murphy has been good for us,” he declared, adding, “if there’s a good relationship , you should extend.” Terry confessed that he had some doubts about Murphy when he joined the board, “but I have been impressed with what I’ve seen.” He added: “Dr. Murphy has navigated some choppy waters for us.”

Summers, who voted yes, said that student test scores have been elevated, the facilities have been improved, the schools are safe havens for the students, and the district’s budget has been in balance for several years. “He’s doing the job. Sure, he ticks me off sometimes, too, but he’s doing the job. To look for a new superintendent costs the district a lot of money. I’m going to vote yes.”

Bailey, who voted yes for the extension a year ago, said she was voting no this time, largely because of financial uncertainty and because of the message it conveys to the community.

She said she has an issue with long-term contracts that limit the flexibility to act. As an example, she cited board discussions about the viability of declaring a wage freeze until they realized that, because of employment contracts, “only 5 percent of our wages would be subject to a freeze.” She concluded: “I support Dr. Murphy, but we have a fiduciary obligation to the community.”

Lockhart said that extending the contract was a vote of confidence in the superintendent and his administrative team. “I vote yes,” she declared.

After the vote, Murphy thanked the board members for their confidence in him and said he appreciates “the opportunity to continue to provide a public service.”

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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