Reasonable limit on school boss' contract

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

Walt Wegener, superintendent of the Baker School District, deserves to have his employment contract extended for another year.

That would give Wegener, who started work here July 1, 2010, and signed a contract that continues until June 30, 2012, some measure of job security through June 30, 2013. More importantly, it would give the district continuity of leadership while it restructures its staff and budget to accommodate declining enrollment.

The school board, though, is considering offering Wegener a multi-year extension, beyond 2013.

That's not appropriate.

Our main objection to the board giving Wegener a longer-term contract

extension is that the decision would, in effect, presuppose what the

three newly elected board members will think about Wegener's


Voters elected those three directors - Kyle Knight, James Longwell and Mark Henderson - last month.

The newcomers will comprise a majority of the five-member board.

But their terms don't start until July 1. And the current board could approve a contract extension for Wegener on June 28.

Let's say the current board, when it meets next week, extends Wegener's contract for three more years, through June 30, 2015.

We understand the board's desire to express their confidence in Wegener by giving him a multi-year extension.

Problem is, three of the current directors won't be evaluating his performance during that period.

Knight, Longwell and Henderson will have that responsibility. It's a

vital responsibility, and moreover, one given them by the voters.

What if the new directors decide, a year from now, that Wegener, even

though he has two years left on his contract, has not performed to

their satisfaction and that they want to replace him?

We would of course expect that the board, in that situation, could cogently explain how Wegener had failed.

But it seems to us that the directors would, in that circumstance, have

the inherent disadvantage of having to also address the obvious

question that district residents would ask: Why is their evaluation of

the superintendent so drastically different from their predecessors'


Fortunately, the current board could address another potential pratfall

by making sure the extended contract, like the current version,

includes the proviso that if the board fires Wegener before his

contract expires, he will not be entitled to a buyout.

That's a vital clause. It would ensure that the new board, regardless

of the length of Wegener's contract, could replace him without having

to spend what could amount to a couple hundred thousand dollars in

severance pay.

To be clear, we're not suggesting that the new board will inevitably find fault with Wegener.

We applaud Wegener for his steady and competent work during a difficult

first year, one marked by the district's revenue failing to keep pace

with its spending.

However, considering the absence of a buyout clause in his current

contract, Wegener's job security is in reality tied to whether he

performs to the standards set by the board, regardless of what ending

date is printed on the pact.

Given that, the current board should let the new directors decide whether to extend Wegener's contract beyond 2013.

Doing otherwise would be a disservice not only to the new directors, but to the voters who elected them.

The Baker City Herald
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