April 09, 2014 - With no discussion of the details, the Oxford Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. William Skilling's contract until June 2019 at the April 1 regular board meeting.
The contract was passed 6-0.
Trustee Bill Keenist was absent.
According to the contract, his salary for the 2014-15 school year will remain the same at the current amount of $163,769 along with his benefits. However, his salary for following fiscal years will be determined by the board.
While his contract runs through 2019, Skilling may have a position change in the 2016 school year to "Superintendent Emeritus of International Programs, Global Outreach and Fund development." His salary would remain at the current amount.
"Originally, I was going to retire in 2016. That's when I had the last five-year contract (ending)," Skilling told this reporter. "The timing of such was that my youngest son is going to graduate in 2016."
But as the district has gotten more involved in global initiatives, such as the most recent with the Weiming Education Group from China, Skilling said he was asked by the board to stay longer "to ensure this goes forward successfully."
However, his new position wouldn't just deal with Weiming, but all foreign and domestic partnerships they currently have and are developing, such as with Oakland and Kettering universities. His main focus is "on the revenue streams and creating financial stability."
"Looking at the overall big picture of what's driving everything is one thing," Skilling said. "Maintaining our mission and vision and not having it go into a different direction when it comes time to bring a new superintendent on board or even as we look to promote at bringing new administrators in internally."
As a part of their "grooming more future leaders internally," Tim Throne received a bump up from executive director for Strategic Initiatives and Technology to deputy superintendent commencing July 1, which comes with a salary upgrade from $117,036 to $140,000 for the 2014-2015 fiscal school year.
"We redefined his position," Skilling said. "The difference from what he is currently doing is that now, if I am outside of the district working on behalf of the district, developing these partnerships, sustaining them and approving them, there is somebody here who can make decisions on behalf of the superintendent as if they're acting superintendent."
Why approve now?
With 2014 being an election year and four school board seats up for grabs in November, a highly debated question has been why board members would approve Skilling's contract now as opposed to letting a "new board" make that decision.
During an April 4 interview with Board Vice President Carol Mitchell, Secretary Jim Reis and Treasurer Dan D'Alessandro, they weighed in on the topic.
Mitchell said they've extended his contract out five years before so "it's nothing new."
"Why we're doing it is (because) we're securing the district for the way we're going in our vision," she said. "We have to have someone at the helm to run it who knows where we're going and what we've worked so hard (for) all these years to do."
"If you look at his contract, it's 'the Board of Education may, assign/transfer the Superintendent, commencing July 1, 2016 or anytime thereafter to the position of Superintendent Emeritus of International Programs, Global Outreach and Fund Development,'" Mitchell added. "We specifically put 'may' in (the contract) to leave that (decision) up to the (new board)."
Reis agreed that they made provisions for the next board to position Skilling where they want him in 2016, but he also stated that "there has always been a superintendent when new board members came on (the board) and they didn't have a say of who the superintendent was."
"I think it would be irresponsible to stop midstream and not have a position for Bill at some point whether it's superintendent or in charge of the international program fund development and somebody else steps in (as superintendent)," he said. "The new board will be able to get a feel for that when they come on and we'll be able to bring them up to speed."
As a "$45 million-plus entity and the largest employer in Oxford," D'Alessandro said it's their "responsibility" looking forward.
"We're taking the steps to make sure strategically that we're going to be able to move forward and make sure what we've worked for and the money we've invested in the past five or seven years doesn't go to waste."
According to Mitchell, the decision to keep Skilling on "wasn't taken lightly and was discussed a lot."
"A lot of people think we make decisions very hastily. It was not a decision that any of us take lightly. It's one of those things where we discussed it and we went back and forth on the pros and cons of every decision that we make," added D'Alessandro. "Just because we come out of a meeting and it seems like it was a 10-minute discussion, it wasn't."
Where did the discussion take place?
According to Skilling, talks of his contract started during his yearly evaluation last year.
"We discuss those things a lot when we go through my evaluations, but also, I meet individually with board members in pairs and things like that and take time to go through it and discuss it," he said. "You're always talking. At times, after board meetings, we'll have a discussion and just talk."
D'Alessandro said all other contracts of central administration have been discussed in closed session as well.
"I don't think we're the only school district that does it. I think every school district goes into closed session to discuss contracts," he said. "That's of personal nature."
Mitchell said in the 10 years she's been on the board they have "never" discussed contracts openly in public.
"As public employees we have to be transparent in everything," Skilling noted. "As the board strategizes the reason they go into closed session and there is availability to do so (in the law), because you're not always sure how they're going to come out."
Skilling admitted that he doesn't "want the stress of being superintendent much longer" and being moved to a new position would help with that as well as give him greater flexibility to see his grandchildren out of state.
"This was a creative way of looking at it because quite honestly if they bring on a superintendent in 2016, my stress level goes way down," he said. "I can do the partnership stuff and things like that, but I don't have the burden and the responsibility of the district itself."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.