S. Whidbey school board 'happy' with superintendent in contract review

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy had his contract reviewed by the South Whidbey School Board Tuesday night, but school officials said beforehand the review was expected to be routine.

McCarthy’s current contract expires June 30, 2009, though when he was originally hired his contract ran until 2010.

“That’s customary,” said school board member Steven Scoles. “The usual practice is to give a three-year contract, renewable about this time each year. If for some reason the board isn’t happy, they can choose to not renew the contract and let it run out.

“That’s usually a clear indication a problem exists; it sends a signal.”

But Scoles was quick to note that’s not the case here.

“I’m very happy with Dr. McCarthy’s performance and I believe the other board members feel the same,” he said.

While the discussion was held in a private executive session, the vote on the contract in July will be public.

McCarthy is one of the highest paid public employees on South Whidbey, receiving an annual salary of $129,625.

He supervises a 60-square-mile district that served 1,807 students in 2007-08 in four traditional schools and two alternative programs. The district employs roughly 200 full-time employees and a total staff of 230.

Other key aspects of McCarthy’s contract include a full suite of benefits: medical, dental and vision, 28 days of vacation — accumulated unused vacation will be “bought back” when the superintendent retires — and 12 days of sick leave that can also be bought back. A $100,000 life insurance policy is provided and the district reimburses McCarthy for any travel expenses related to official duties.

Among other benefits, the district pays the superintendent’s dues for professional educational memberships for the Washington Association of School Administrators and similar organizations. Any tuition costs for board-approved learning and development training is also covered.

With prior approval of the board, McCarthy can also undertake consultive work, speaking engagements and lecturing provided they don’t conflict with his main duties.

McCarthy said his top five accomplishments this year included completing the district’s strategic plan, finishing the facility use plan that recommended different ways to use the Primary School, adoption of listening sessions to improve communication, expanding community partnerships and implementing leadership training for key district leaders.

“My biggest disappointment is the loss of important staff positions due to reductions in force of certificated and classified staff,” he said.

The district may lose two teachers and up to seven staffers this year; most of the latter were hired in April to serve special needs students.

McCarthy’s biggest challenge in the years ahead revolves around declining enrollment.

There were 86 fewer children this year than last and the district is budgeting a further drop of 75 next year.

In another two years, the decrease will be 110 fewer students.

The state pays the district about $5,100 per student so the budget impact grows as the numbers decline.

Looking ahead, the overall number of students enrolled will drop from 1,807 as of the last day of school on June 18, to 1,622 in the 2009-10 school year.

Those numbers reflect a continuing demographic trend; eight years ago there was an all-time high of 2,264 students enrolled in South End public schools.

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