The one-year extension, which will last through Aug. 31, 2020, gives Superintendent James T. Russell time to implement changes.
The Volusia County School Board voted to extend Superintendent James T. Russell’s contract until Aug. 31, 2020 at the regular board meeting on Oct. 23. The motion passed 3-2.
School board member Ida Wright suggested extending it for one year to evaluate his progress in certain categories, such as student achievement, curriculum, communication, human resources, operations and board relations.
Wright said if the School Board voted to not extend the contract, it would give Russell sufficient notice and the board ample time to find his replacement.
School board member Melody Johnson supported extending his contract.
“We need stability,” she said. “Constantly threatening and putting fear in losing our leader is not helping our schools. I’ve had a lot of teachers reach out in support of Mr. Russell, and we have to stand together as a board and support who we’ve put in place.”
School board member Carl Persis preferred to discuss the superintendent’s contract in January to include new school board members.
“I think it’s a preemptive strike to not allow them on first and get their thoughts first,” he said.
Persis said the new School Board may make a motion to terminate Russell, costing the school district more money to pay out the termination, or chose to not extend his contract.
He said if the School Board chose not to extend the contract at the Oct. 23 meeting, Russell and the board will have nine months notice to plan an exit strategy.
School board member John Hill also did not think it was the right time to discuss the Russell's contract, and he said he is not in favor of making the decision of someone who is taking his seat in January.
School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert said Russell’s contract is up in nine months, and it may take up to a year to find a replacement.
Cuthbert said she would like stability in the school district, especially in the midst of school testing, upcoming budget season and the election of a new state legislature.
She said extending Russell’s contract by one year will allow the new School Board to get acquainted with the school district’s situation and give Russell a year to implement changes, such as working toward higher pay and working with the new state legislature to increase funding.
She said by spring, the School Board will have results on school grades and graduation rate.
“I’d like to give him the chance, just like we do with a teacher who slips,” she said. “We don’t just toss them out, we work with them and improve them, and it takes a team effort to do that.”
Hill said it should not take a year to find a replacement.
“I can hire a neurosurgeon in a week to operate on your brain, so I don’t think it should take a year to put a person in the position to oversee a school district,” he said.