New Logan school board members upset over superintendent contract

By Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer
Logan County’s school board approved in February a four-year contract extension for its superintendent, Phyllis Doty, who currently makes $115,000 per year.

By the time the contract — which includes $2,500 annual raises and payment for the employee’s portion of Doty’s health insurance coverage — takes effect July 1, the five-member board will have four members who didn’t vote for it and don’t approve of it.

But Doty said she won’t, as some members have publicly requested, newly agree to lower her contract extension to one year. If a majority doesn’t want her as superintendent for that long, she said they’ll have to pay her for her four years.

“I’ll take it,” Doty said. “I’d be an idiot not to.”

Some board members are questioning whether the contract can be changed without her agreement.

Former board president Jim Frye, who died of brain cancer March 8, joined the Feb. 25 meeting by teleconference and voted for the extension, alongside fellow members Pat Joe White and Chad Preston. Preston had only joined the board — upon appointment by other members — after former member Mark McGrew resigned around January to run for Logan Circuit Court clerk.

Voting against the extension were board members Debbie Mendez and Phyllis Adkins.

The board appointed Don Elkins to replace Frye, with whom Elkins said he was in Kiwanis International and other community groups, and Elkins didn’t run for election to a full term. Now, following their victories in the May election, three new members are set to replace Adkins, Elkins and Preston July 1.

White, the only incumbent member who both voted for the extension and who will still be on the board July 1, didn’t return calls for comment.

“This here is made-for-TV it’s so bad,” said Paul Hardesty, a board member who takes office July 1.

He noted Doty’s contract will run the entire length of his four-year term.

Hardesty criticized the school system for its spending during Doty’s tenure and for the findings in the special 2014 Office of Education Performance Audits report on the school system. That audit, which OEPA Executive Director Susan O’Brien said the state school board requested because of concerns over finance and personnel issues, came alongside a warning that Logan needed to fix its problems within six months before the state intervened.

“I cannot understand how one could even consider giving a four-year, $500,000 contract extension to someone that has operated this system so poorly during the past three years,” Hardesty told the Gazette-Mail.

Doty noted she only started her job in July 2013, and pointed out that a 2015 OEPA audit showed improvement. That audit noted “progress in many areas,” since the 2014 report, and noted “more work needs to be done,” but said “no direct intervention is being recommended at this time.”

“I turned it around,” Doty said.

Hardesty said he only wants a one-year contract extension. So does Jeremy Farley, who said his position doesn’t have anything to do with Doty personally, but with the economic climate Logan is in and the cuts other areas of the school system may face.

“We have some tough decisions coming up, and it needs to start at the top,” Farley said. “… Locking a superintendent in for four years and providing stability there and pay raises just sends the wrong signal to employees.”

Upcoming new board member Ed White also supports just a one-year contract.

Mendez, who also said she supports a one-year contract extension and will be staying on the board past July 1, said board members did give Doty average or above average marks on her annual superintendent evaluation. Adkins, the other current board member who voted against Doty’s four-year extension, said she supports approving a two-year extension for Doty before she leaves the board at the end of next month.

Elkins, who noted he’s only been on the board a little over a month, said he supports keeping Doty as superintendent, but is still making up his mind on how long the contract should be. And, again, it’s debated whether it can even be changed.

“I’ve been told that the four-year contract that she has signed is valid,” Elkins said. “That’s what I have been told, and I want to be sure that is true.”

Doty said there were questions about how the original contract extension was approved at the February board meeting. Mendez told the Gazette-Mail one board member made an initial motion to approve the extension that died because no other board members agreed to bring it to a vote, or “second it” — though a second motion to approve the contract was seconded and approved by three members.

So the superintendent said she took a video recording of the board meeting to state Department of Education General Counsel Heather Hutchens, who reviewed it and wrote a letter stating the contract was legal and binding.

When asked for the letter, Hutchens emailed the Gazette-Mail a message she sent on March 7 to Logan board attorney Shana L. O’Briant Thompson.

“In reviewing a digital video recording of the meeting, it appears that member Preston seconded the motion properly,” Hutchens wrote. “First, a review of the recording shows that he indicated a desire to second the motion to renew the contract at the same time that member White was discussing the lack of a second. His clear intent was to second the motion rather than to let the motion die.”

Even had the motion been declared dead prior to Preston’s seconding it, Hutchens wrote “Frye could have made the motion anew.” In forwarding this letter to the Gazette-Mail, Hutchens wrote to “please note that I neither act as counsel for nor do I represent Logan County Schools or the Logan County superintendent.”

While Doty stands by her argument that the original contract was properly approved, she noted it contains an error: It says the school system will pay her employee cost for health insurance, something that’s apparently not allowed. She said the “mutually agreed” proposed contract amendment Tuesday would add to her salary to compensate for removing that provision, but would also effectively not give her a raise next school year.

The proposed new contract would up her annual pay next school year by about $6,000 to pay for her premiums, then give $2,500 raises for the next three years, to top out at about $128,400 in the 2019-20 school year.

Doty said the board previously agreed to this change, but Mendez said she didn’t know about it.

Tuesday’s board meeting starts at 6 p.m., though citizens wanting to speak must register by at least 5:45 p.m. It will be at the Ralph R. Willis Career Technical Center, Three Mile Curve, Rt. 10, Logan, WV, 25601.

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