TAMPA — By a 5-2 vote following an emotion-filled discussion, the Hillsborough County School Board agreed to retain superintendent MaryEllen Elia for her ninth year running one of the nation's largest school districts.
At 64, she works long hours and enjoys a high profile. Her detractors call her brusque and intimidating, so much so that two board members — who gave her the lowest possible ratings — stopped taking meetings with her.
But the four who rated her above satisfactory credit Elia for running high-performing schools and weathering the economic recession without teacher layoffs. The seventh rated her satisfactory, which merits a contract extension.
In her self-evaluation, Elia filled the columns with 4's and 5's for above satisfactory and outstanding. She listed some of the district's recent accomplishments, including its large numbers of National Merit Scholar semifinalists and National Hispanic Scholars.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Hillsborough was proactive in tightening security, she wrote. Eighty elementary schools have running clubs to support heart health. New teachers are remaining on the job, thanks to a mentoring program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
As for her interaction with School Board members, Elia wrote, "Communication is a top priority and I am committed to reaching out to board members, both to provide information and seek input."
The contract itself, negotiated before changes in the state law in 2012, protects Elia if the board were to turn against her without a strong case.
Each year, it rolls over to cover three years. If the board terminates her contract "without just cause," she is entitled to "all salary, retirement benefits, insurance policies and other benefits provided under the contract due through the unexpired term of the contract."
The new law limits severance pay in superintendent contracts to 20 weeks.
Elia's contract also offers cash bonuses for meeting performance goals. These include $200 for each school achieving adequate yearly progress under a federal accountability system, $2,000 if no schools are rated a "D" or an "F" by the state, and $500 for every percentage point increase in high school students participating in advanced placement courses and exams.
In the past, Elia has donated much of this bonus money to the Hillsborough Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the school district.
The last data released by the district listed her salary at $272,340.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3356.