Saying that the district needs stability, Pinellas School Board members on Tuesday all agreed they need and want to extend Superintendent Howard Hinesley's contract.
"It's not just a transition," said board member Jane Gallucci, referring to the upcoming change from cross-county busing for desegregation to a new system of school choice. "It's a transformation for the district. This is not the time to bring in a new person."
The devil will be in the details.
Hinesley, the longest-serving urban superintendent in the nation, has led Pinellas schools since 1990. He earns $159,509 annually and automatically earns a 5 percent raise every year unless teachers' average salaries are less. In that case, he gets what the teachers get.
Hinesley is not asking for a large salary increase, though other superintendents command thousands more, even in some smaller districts.
Hinesley has other demands, including extending his contract through June 30, 2004, with the ability to extend it longer; permission to do consulting work during his vacation time; raising the amount contributed to a tax-sheltered annuity from $9,500 annually to the maximum the IRS allows, which eventually will be $15,000; and folding a $3,000 bonus he had been donating to charity into his base salary. That would make his base salary $162,509.
The biggest item is Hinesley's request that the board buy him a $690,000 life insurance policy through Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance to provide for his wife, Susan.
If the board pays for it over eight years, which could be longer than Hinesley actually works in Pinellas, it would cost the board about $18,000 a year for a total premium of $146,256.
Four School Board members met before the board meeting to discuss Hinesley's requests. They spent most of their time debating the insurance.
Three of the board members _ Tom Todd, Nancy Bostock and Gallucci _ were uncomfortable with committing to paying insurance costs beyond the length of Hinesley's contract.
"We're not talking about his worth, but I think it's a little much," Bostock said.
As a possible compromise, they discussed committing to paying the premiums for four years but making payments for the last four years contingent on Hinesley's staying. They hoped it might be an incentive for Hinesley to stay longer.
But board member Max Gessner pointed out that if the board is not willing to pay Hinesley's life insurance in full, it might need to talk about bumping up his base salary. And that could be difficult with more budget cuts looming.
"It would compensate his wife many years down the road for money we should be paying him but we're not," Gessner said, advocating for the insurance request.
School Board attorney John Bowen, who is advising the board on the contract negotiations, will communicate the subcommittee's concerns to Hinesley. Late Tuesday, Hinesley had not spoken to Bowen so the superintendent would not comment on the board's concerns and whether his requests are negotiable.
The subcommittee will meet again next week. A contract is scheduled to be brought before the full board for a vote Dec. 11.
Hinesley is sitting in a good negotiating position. He has been invited to apply for several other jobs that pay far more _ and would be far less controversial and demanding _ than Pinellas.
"He is not asking for what he is worth," Bowen said. "He is probably the most marketable superintendent in the nation."
The biggest problem for Hinesley and the School Board is timing. The school district is cutting more than $20-million from its budget and expects to have to cut at least that much more next year.
What happens if Hinesley and the board can't reach a contract? Hinesley's current contract expires June 30, so he would consider other offers.
And the board would need to begin searching for a new superintendent immediately. A national search could cost $35,000 and take longer than six months.
Board members have made clear that they don't want to search for someone new because they want to keep the superintendent they have.
They know it would be difficult for a new superintendent to lead the district through a sweeping new student assignment system, the expected mass retirements of top administrators and tough economic times. They also acknowledge they might not be able to attract a superintendent with the kind of experience Pinellas demands without paying a lot more.
"It's tough times," Gallucci said. "What do we need to do to compensate him fairly for his job and be fiscally conservative? I'm going to need to mull this over."