Bonus stays at $2,000; Armstrong not happy

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Mark Locklear-Staff writer
LUMBERTON - Schools Superintendent Colin Armstrong criticized the school board Monday night after it awarded him only 20 percent of a potential $10,000 bonus, saying he met benchmarks used to evaluate his performance.
The board voted 7 to 3 to give Armstrong $2,000. Three board members, Millicent Nealy, Terry Smith and Brenda Fairley, said they wanted to give him $5,000.
The decision came after the board met in closed session for three hours. The board had voted on the contract last week during a closed session, but did not take action in open session. That was deemed illegal, so the board acted in public Monday night.
Board members who voted for $2,000 were Stephen Stone, Jo Ann Lowery, Loistine DeFreece, Mike Smith, Robert Deese, John Campbell and Randall Jones.
Armstrong, in a two-page letter, questioned the board's motivation and rationale. He said the central office has met goals despite being chronically short staffed. He said test scores have improved during the year on the job for which he was evaluated.
Terry Smith said the bonus doesn't match with Armstrong's performance during the 2003-2004 school year.
“Our evaluation was fair, but the compensation wasn't fair,” he said. “It doesn't meet the evaluation. Based on last year's performance of this man, I don't think this board has been fair.”
He said the board should have completed the performance review before August, when four new members - Stone, DeFreece, Lowery and Jones - joined the board. The board began its evaluation in July.
“I don't think we are being fair to you as new board members to make an evaluation on a man that you haven't worked with for a year,” Smith said.
Nealy agreed.
“You cannot evaluate a person unless you have worked with that person,” Nealy said. “We have not been fair and equitable according to the data that was presented to us.”
Short staffed
Armstrong said the school system improved with five senior staff members at the central office doing the jobs of nine during the last school year.
“The efforts of senior administration, plus other support staff, were well beyond anything a reasonable employer has the right to expect,” Armstrong said. “Goals were met and the system improved.”
He added that results of a performance review done by top school staff indicated that he met or exceeded the goals he set when he was hired. He said results of the board's review show he met or exceeded objectives in eight out of eight ratings.
“One of my goals dealt with improving board/superintendent relations,” Armstrong said. “Clearly this relationship is not where it needs to be. I am prepared to pick up 50 percent of the responsibility for this goal not having been accomplished; however, the board must also accept 50 percent of that responsibility.”
Deese called the evaluation “part objective and part subjective.”
“Board relationships with the superintendent is subjective,” Deese said. “Those relationships have to be built. There is room for improvement on both sides to have a better relationship. But I'm not sure this is the way to improve it.”
In the letter, Armstrong also expressed concern over the board's decision to remove the transportation clause from his assistant superintendents' contracts which reduced their compensation package. He said the move seemed to have been made arbitrarily, that it amounted to “contract stripping” since the reduction was not offset by an increase in any other area, and that the board did not allow those who were affected to make a case against the move.
“Senior administration is the only employee group that the board has chosen to identify for a reduction in compensation,” he said. “While we have spent time analyzing the situation, we have great difficulty arriving at any explanation of the board actions that cannot be characterized by the words 'arbitrary,' 'capricious,' 'discriminatory,' 'personal' or 'political.'”
In other action, the board:
Approved the hiring of Gwen Clark as director of certification.
Reorganized the Financial Services Department. The board agreed to rename the internal auditor position to director of internal affairs and finance. Also, the director of accounts payable was renamed assistant school finance officer. The salaries for the two positions will be increased $5,000 a year.
Recognized Jacqueline Hunt of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School as the county's Bus Driver of the Month. Hunt has worked at the school for 13 years.

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