School district won’t say what it plans to pay Hayden in new COO position; new questions about timing of superintendent’s resignation

Lawrence school district leaders won’t say how much they intend to pay soon-to-be ex-Superintendent Kyle Hayden in his new role as chief operations officer.

When news broke on Friday that Hayden intended to resign as superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools — a position that pays him $205,000 annually — and take a new position of chief operations officer for the district, spokeswoman Julie Boyle declined to provide expected salary information for the new position, which still requires board approval. On Monday, board president Marcel Harmon told me he also wouldn’t disclose what salary number the school board will be asked to approve at an upcoming meeting.

“The contract will not be released,” Harmon said via email in response to a question about whether the public could see the proposed COO contract prior to board approval. “It is not standard policy for boards to release administrative or teacher contracts, including salary information, to the public prior to the board’s approval.”

Board members are scheduled to approve the COO contract at their special board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The district’s refusal to provide advance information about the salary of the COO position creates questions about what already is an unusual personnel move by the district. District officials have said they expect the creation of the COO position to be “budget neutral,” but they have not provided any details to back up that assertion.

The salary figure is the key piece of information the public needs to evaluate whether the district is meeting its goal of making the position budget neutral. As it stands now, the public is not likely to receive that information until after the board has voted or, at best, perhaps a few minutes before the vote, if board members choose to mention the salary number as part of their public meeting.

The district’s refusal to release the salary information is odd, given than Hayden’s salary and other employment terms will be required to be released by law. The contract will be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.

When pressed for a further explanation, Harmon said via email that he believed there is good reason to not release contract details prior to a board vote for this position or any other position. He said the board’s refusal to release salary information or other such details “is based in part on not bogging things down.”

“If the community needed to have systemic input on every hire, including overviews of contracts/salaries, even just administrative hires, that would bog the system down,” Harmon said via email.

However, state law seems to be designed to give the public that very opportunity to comment on individual hires made by school districts. State law generally requires all employment contracts to be approved by the Board of Education. Superintendents, for instance, don’t have the administrative authority to commit the district to an employment contract without the approval of the Board of Education. Such approvals of employment contracts must be done during a public meeting.

Given that state lawmakers went to the trouble of creating a system that requires elected officials to approve the contract, and to do so as part of a public meeting, would seem to indicate that lawmakers intended for the public to have some say in the matter.

The Lawrence school board routinely approves many employment contracts throughout the course of the year. In the vast majority of those approvals, the public cares little about the details. However, I had always assumed that if members of the public did care to see the details of a pending contract, that they would be allowed to do so. Now it appears that the board has a policy that creates an awkward situation: Board members are approving a contract that the public can’t see beforehand. The contract, of course, commits the district to spend public funds.

Harmon said he’s not sure the public is all that interested in having the information about the COO position beforehand. If the board hears otherwise from the public, he said there’s a chance additional details may be released.

“If we were to receive a significant amount of public input that they wanted a chance to provide feedback prior to the board’s vote, we would consider that,” Harmon said via email.

The salary figure is a key piece of information but it may not be the only detail members of the public want to know. There are also questions about how much overlap the new COO position will have with a position that is already on the district’s payroll — executive director of facilities and operations.

When details were announced on Friday, the district described the COO position as the manager of the recently approved $87 million in bond improvements. The position also will oversee the facilities and operations department, capital improvement planning, planning related to enrollment projections, school boundaries and other issues. The director of facilities and operations currently handles many of those duties.

When board members on Friday were asked about the potential overlap of the COO position with that of Tony Barron, the current director of facilities and operations, they largely said it would all work out for the best.

“Tony’s plate is full, without these upcoming projects,” school board member Jill Fincher said. “Tony really is at capacity doing what he’s doing.”

Harmon has doubled-down on that talking point. I asked Harmon about the timing of Hayden’s resignation. Hayden’s resignation is scheduled to take affect July 1. The board believes it could take the district until February to hire a replacement. The board will have to spend time and money to hire an interim superintendent.

Given that Hayden is remaining with the district, it creates a question about why Hayden simply wouldn’t agree to stay on as superintendent until a replacement is found. Board members have said they aren’t forcing Hayden to resign from the superintendent position. I asked Harmon for an explanation of why Hayden wasn’t staying until his replacement was found.

“We need him to step into that role sooner rather than later,” Harmon said via email. “The bond implementation process will be underway by July 1, and we need the COO at the helm of the bond implementation.”

That statement creates another question: If Hayden hadn’t decided to resign and accept the COO position, was the district going to need to hire a COO to manage the $87 million bond issue?

If that is the case, many voters likely were not aware of such a need. During the course of the months-long campaign for the bond issue, the need for the new position was not a point highlighted to voters.