As expected, the Little Rock School Board voted 5-2 tonight to buy out the time remaining on Superintendent Linda Watson’s contract. Her three-year contract expires June 30. She’ll be paid her roughly $200,000 annual salary and health benefits for that period, plus up to almost $48,000 ($792 a day up to 60 days) for unused vacation days and up to about $3,000 ($30 a day for up to 102 days) for unused sick days. It’s unclear how many such days she may have accumulated The Board will also contribute $25,000 to a retirement annuity of her choice.
Watson is to work through Jan. 15 under the agreement and then work one day a month afterward to aid transition.
The Board met at 6 p.m., went into executive session briefly and then returned to approve the motion to adopt the separation agreement. (I’ve only scanned the first page. The second page is some minor boilerplate, including a promise the board wiill give Watson a positive recommendation to a future employer.) Board members Katherine Mitchell and Dianne Curry spoke in opposition to the buyout and lauded Watson’s contributions. During Curry’s remarks, Watson left the room and did not return. She did not speak during the board meeting and she did not emerge after the meeting to talk with a crowd, which included a number of supporters, that gathered afterward in the lobby of school district offices. Board member Jody Carreiro, who voted for the separation agreement, complimented Watson but said the change seemed the best course to end controversy in the district and with respect to Watson.
Among those in the audience were civil rights lawyer John Walker, who’d become an opponent of Watson’s and worked to elect Board member Michael Nellums, who was in the Board majority. Also present was Micheal Daugherty, the long-time board member Nellums defeated. Daugherty contended Walker worked to oust Watson because she’d refused to fire a list of district employees, including Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau, that he wanted ousted.
The decision was foreordained since the Board voted not to extend her contract. Her contract allows her dismissal for any reason with 60 days notice. Watson didn’t sign the contract tonight, telling others she wanted to talk first with her lawyer Mark Riable. If she decided not to sign the agreement, the board would undoubtedly meet again to give her 60 days notice of termination, with a loss of various benefits.
Board President Melanie Fox said the board likely would discuss possible interim superintendents and the process for finding a permanent successor at a scheduled board meeting next week.
The Little Rock Education Association, a staunch supporter of Watson, issued a statement saying she’d served with “great distinction by fostering an environment in Little Rock School District that values collaboration with all.” The statement was issued by union president Cathy Koehler, a sometimes fiery leader, who was not present for the meeting.
I captured the seven minutes of Board action in a little shaky, hand-held video.