Logan superintendent contract signed without illegal insurance benefit

RYAN QUINN | Gazette-Mail

LOGAN — Amid confusion over voting procedures, Logan County’s school board decided Tuesday to — according to the board attorney’s interpretation — approve $2,500 annual raises for Logan’s superintendent in a four-year contract extension that nixes a previous promise to pay for the employee’s share of her health insurance coverage.

Nor does the contract extension, set to take effect July 1, include a previously proposed amendment that would’ve raised Superintendent Phyllis Doty’s annual salary, currently at $115,000 per year, by nearly $6,000 next school year to offset Doty’s cost to pay for her own health insurance premium costs. Other Logan school workers have their premium costs deducted from their salaries, and after the Logan school board in February approved the previous version of the extension that said the school system would pay that cost for Doty, that benefit was discovered to be illegal and the board was faced with what to do about the unlawful promise it had made.

The health insurance issue was part of a larger debate over the validity of Doty’s entire contract extension and the ability of the board to change more provisions of it. Fueling that debate was the fact that, as of July 1, there will be three members on the five-member board who didn’t have a chance to vote for the contract and have publicly requested shorter extensions, and the fact that the board’s membership had already changed since the February vote.

Former board President Jim Frye, who voted for the extension in February alongside board members Chad Preston and Pat Joe White, died of brain cancer in March and was replaced with a new member, Don Elkins. Elkins didn’t run for election to a full term, nor did Preston, nor did Phyllis Adkins — who voted alongside member Debbie Mendez in February against the extension — so following the May elections, all three are set to be replaced July 1.

Members Tuesday went into a roughly one-and-a-half-hour closed session in which, according to White, the board discussed what to do about the extension and unrelated issues. Mendez said the board unanimously offered Doty a two-year extension that would’ve given her a $135,000 annual salary for both years, but she declined.

Doty declined comment Tuesday, saying her personal lawyer advised her not to comment. She also declined to give the Gazette-Mail the name of her attorney.

White said Doty had consulted with her lawyer and agreed to pay for the employee’s share of her health insurance coverage, but had still opted to stick with the four-year extension. She previously said the school system would have to pay her for all four years of her contract if the board didn’t want her to lead the school system.

The contract approved Tuesday — Thompson sent the Gazette-Mail a version that afternoon showing Doty’s signature — does include previously proposed annual raises of $2,500, meaning her annual salary will reach $125,000 in the 2019-20 school year, the final year of her extension.

Melody Thompson, Doty’s secretary and the minutes keeper for the board meetings, said Tuesday’s vote for the contract was 4-1 with Adkins the sole no vote. Members voted quickly through raising their hands, and several didn’t return calls after the meeting.

After the board came out of closed session, Preston made a motion that stated the board already approved a four-year contract extension for Doty in its February vote. But the motion went on to set the exact salary amounts for the next four school years, and also noted the contract wouldn’t pay for Doty’s employee share of her health insurance coverage. No other members joined Preston in a vote in favor of his motion, but after he and Thompson suggested taking no action would allow the illegal insurance provision to persist, Preston eventually said he was moving to reconsider his own failed motion.

“I don’t believe in the salary, I believe in the amendment [that removes the illegal health insurance benefit],” Mendez eventually said. “I’ll second this daggone thing to get it over with. I’ll fight this battle another day, let’s move on.”

It was unclear Tuesday why Mendez and any other board members who may not have wanted salary increases didn’t make their own motion to approve lower increases or no increases. Mendez handed the Gazette-Mail a copy of advice from longtime education attorney Howard Seufer Jr. — advice she requested in a successful motion last week — that opined that while state law required the board to appoint a superintendent for next school year by Wednesday, and while the board “should not re-open the question of the length of the Superintendent’s appointment,” said that “for several reasons, it is not apparent that the Board voted to ‘fix’ the Superintendent’s annual salary.”

He stressed that he didn’t advise approving annual salaries exceeding the ones set out in the February contract, but didn’t specifically address not granting raises at all.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.