NEWS- Supe whoop: Griffin's ouster cost city $291,000
Now they know. After a nearly 10-month sojourn in Charlottesville, Superintendent Scottie Griffin, who resigned in April, walked away with $291,000 in her pocket.
"I'm not pleased," says City Councilor Rob Schilling. "That money would have been much better focused in the classroom. A lot of people are angry at spending money that way."
"I don't have a problem with what it cost," says Mayor David Brown. "I would have liked for it to cost less, but she had a contract. I felt it was just not tenable for Dr. Griffin to continue. We were on the verge of losing good staff and dividing the community. I heard numerous people say, 'Please don't let cost get in the way of finding a new superintendent.'"
Even before Griffin's contract buyout amount was revealed last week, a petition for a referendum to elect Charlottesville's School Board, currently appointed by City Council, had been gaining momentum.
In 2002, one plank of Republican Schilling's campaign was a call for an elected School Board. The lone member of the GOP on City Council never gained much traction on that issue– until the controversial Griffin regime.
The Griffin payout exemplifies to Schilling the appointed School Board's lack of accountability. When the board accepted Griffin's resignation April 21 but refused to divulge the cost, Schilling filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The buy-out total was announced June 16.
"I'm dismayed that a City Councilor's FOIA request was ignored," says Schilling. "I had to read about this in the newspaper."
Schilling has teamed up with Democrat Jeffrey Rossman to press the issue. To be able to place a referendum on the November ballot, they'll need to get signatures from 10 percent of registered city voters.
Rossman says a "broad coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents" collected 1,200 signatures– over half the 2,331 they need– at the June 14 primary.
"My own experience was that 70 to 80 percent of the people I approached signed," says Rossman. "There was overwhelming support for this on the grassroots level."
Rossman thinks an elected School Board would offer more transparency and a higher level of responsiveness. He worries that Dems are being blamed for the past year's turmoil in city schools because a Democratic-majority City Council appointed the board.
"I don't think it's good to hand an issue to Republicans and independents that 70 percent of the localities have passed," he says.
He's also amazed at the resistance to an elected School Board coming from Democratic insiders. "They roll out the old arguments," he says. One is diversity. "I think there are a lot of qualified potential minority candidates," he says.
Diversity is one of Mayor Brown's concerns. He also worries that an elected board might favor affluent candidates. In the pro column, he says an elected School Board would be more democratic and have more accountability.
"I suspect they're going to get it on the November ballot, and we'll see," says Brown. "We need to have this discussion."
Vice-Mayor Kevin Lynch isn't convinced an elected School Board is the way to go. "I think people are casting about for a silver bullet to fix education," he says. "The attraction from the City Council point of view is that we can dump the problem in someone else's lap– but I'm not sure that's best for the education system and for the children."
Lynch acknowledges that if City Council is going to appoint a School Board, it has to take responsibility for it, and after the past year, he admits he would have done some things differently. "I'd have insisted on a new strategic plan at the beginning of the year from the School Board and superintendent," he says.
Long-time Dem Kay Peaslee says she's only recently converted to the notion. "I think it's a good idea," she says. "I didn't used to until the mess in the School Board."
The same week that brought the School Board's announcement of Griffin's buyout, Albemarle Superintendent Kevin Castner announced he'll work full time through August 31 and on a reduced schedule thereafter until he formally retires December 31.
The Albemarle School Board approved a 10 percent raise for the short-timer, upping Castner's salary from $151,000 to $166,000.
Board Chair Gordon Walker defends the increase. Like any other employee, the superintendent was up for annual review, which is based on previous performance, Walker says.
He points out that the average increase for Albemarle senior management was between 10 and 11 percent, and that Castner's salary was almost 15 percent below the average for superintendents in Albemarle's comparison market of eight localities, primarily in Northern Virginia.
Another factor contributing to Castner's raise: "To establish a base rate for recruiting his successor," says Walker. "The expectation is we'll have to pay that much or more."
In fact, Scottie Griffin was a contributing factor in Castner's raise. "Scottie at one point last fall was making more than Kevin," says Walker. "Our budget is twice theirs, and we have almost three times as many students. In December we adjusted his salary to $151,000 to be in line with Charlottesville's superintendent."
Griffin's salary was $149,184, which included a $140,000 base salary, a $5,200 "doctoral" supplement, and $3,984 for opting out of the health insurance plan.
Was Castner short-changed– steadily improving Albemarle's fully accredited school system during his 10-year tenure, while barely keeping up paycheck-wise with Griffin during her short, tumultuous time here?
"You've got to ask: if someone has done a great job for 10 years versus someone the School Board wants to show the front door– shouldn't you be rewarding success?" muses Walker.
Councilor Schilling has another concern with the timing of Castner's retirement. "Now Charlottesville and Albemarle are going to be competing for the same applicant pool," he says. "It's going to be worse for Charlottesville because Albemarle has more money" and some stability and structure with its superintendent.
The fact that Castner was about to begin negotiations on another four-year contract helped with his decision to retire at age 57. He swears he doesn't have a plan at the moment. "It was a good time to think about things other than going to work every day," he says.
As for the county facing a new superintendent search, "It's nice to make decisions from a wellness model," he says.
Rob Myers couldn't sign because he lives in the county, but unlike the previous five people Rob Schilling (right) beckoned, he stopped to express support for an elected board.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER