Large-district superintendents negotiate contracts with fringe benefits

The contract perks awarded to West Ada School District Superintendent Linda Clark are not uncommon among leaders of Idaho’s largest districts, according to an Idaho Education News examination of superintendent contracts.

As West Ada trustees and Clark clash over a variety of issues, her contract has come under close scrutiny. Trustees have criticized the contract’s fringe benefits; board member Julie Madsen told the Idaho Statesman that the perks are “profane.”

This week, Idaho Education News reviewed current contracts of 11 superintendents in large Idaho districts. Most contracts — but not all — have perks added to a base salary. The perks are personalized and vary from added money for relocation expenses to college credits or a family insurance package.

“I’ve heard of creative things over the years,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. “When a board wants to keep a good superintendent, you have to be competitive and find what’s negotiable for both sides.”

Clark has negotiated a variety of perks over 11 years as superintendent of Idaho’s largest district. Clark’s annual salary of $143,475 ranks third statewide below Blaine County’s GwenCarol Holmes ($173,880) and Boise’s Don Coberly ($159,159). Bonneville Superintendent Chuck Shackett makes $141,161. Nampa’s David Peterson’s annual salary is $140,000.

Some superintendents receive benefits beyond their salaries, such as phones, cars or additional insurance.

“It’s fairly typical practice,” Winslow said.

West Ada, Blaine County, Bonneville and Idaho Falls provide for a vehicle for their superintendents. Coeur d’Alene superintendent Matt Handelman gets $1,000 a month for travel. All others are reimbursed for travel expenses. Peterson, who was recruited last year from Washington state, was given $5,000 for relocation expenses and the district paid for a rental car, hotel and two house-hunting trips for Peterson and his spouse.

Clark’s contract is unique in that it promises a retirement bonus of about $29,000. But many districts reimburse superintendents for unused vacation days when they retire. For Coberly, the amount could be as much as $20,000 if he builds up 30 vacation days. Also unique in Clark’s contract is $1,750 for “career-enhancing professional development.” However, other contracts provide for membership dues to various associations that provide professional development, networking and other learning opportunities.

Clark, Holmes and Shackett all negotiated for Public Retirement System of Idaho employee investments to be paid for by their districts. Plus, Blaine County puts another 9 percent of Holmes’ salary into a different retirement fund.

Holmes’ fringe benefit package might be the most extensive; it also includes an additional $250,000 life insurance policy, long-term disability insurance and a family health insurance plan. Shackett also was given a family health insurance package.

Coeur d’Alene gives Handelman $128,000 in additional life insurance and $500 a month for long-term disability.

Clark’s contract includes a $100,000 life insurance policy and added money for long-term disability.

“Here’s the deal — we aren’t concerned with other districts,” said Russell Joki, a West Ada trustee frustrated with Clark’s fringe benefits. “I’m all for a competitive base pay and reasonable fringe benefits. Standard practice would be a health package that is the same given to other district administrators.”

Not all large-district superintendents receive added perks. Twin Falls’ Wiley Dobbs is paid $130,239 and has the same health, vacation and PERSI benefits as other district employees. The district pays for his phone and travel expenses. The same goes for Pat Charlton in Vallivue, who makes $135,850.

Clark’s contract, which lasts through June 2017, was negotiated with a different board of trustees. Madsen and Joki were elected in May and began their terms in July. On Sept. 29, they were the catalysts in a 4-1 board vote to void a contract extension for Clark, covering the 2017-18 budget year.

“What we are finding is what the previous board did is of interest to the community and of interest to taxpayers,” Joki said. “(The contract) needs to have a careful review, about how it would be received by the community. This is a local decision.”

Click here for more information on Idaho superintendent salaries from 2014-15 (including a spread sheet of all salaries).