The Capital School District Board of Education extended Superintendent Michael Thomas' contract to 2015 at Monday night's meeting in Dover since the two-year contract extension the board gave him in May 2012 violated the state Freedom of Information Act.
Thomas' current, five-year contract already had a clause in it that automatically renewed his contract if the board had not taken action by December 2012. That clause became active when the Delaware Department of Justice opined that the Capital school board's May 16, 2012 vote to extend Thomas' contract for two years was null and void given that the board did not clearly state its intention to vote on that issue after a second, closed-door session that night.
The Capital school board's vote Monday night ensured Thomas did indeed stay with the district for two years, rather than just one, because of the board majority's desire to have Thomas oversee the completion of the new Dover High School under construction. The $114 million crown jewel of the school district's capital construction project, which residents approved in the last capital referendum, was scheduled to be completed by autumn of 2014.
Board member Matt Lindell moved to extend Thomas' contract to 2015, with some added provisos that added some beef to the board's review of the superintendent's performance. Dr. Raymond Paylor seconded that motion during the meeting held in the Capital School District Administration Complex boardroom.
Lindell, Paylor, Board President Kay Dietz-Sass and Vice President Phillip Martino then voted for the contract while Brian Lewis cast the lone no vote.
The Capital School District Board of Education had scheduled a new vote on a Thomas' extension in light of the Dec. 21, 2012 opinion Arrendered by Deputy Attorney General Jason W. Staib and State Solicitor Ian R. McConnel on Capital's May 2012 vote.
The state's attorneys concluded that the Capital Board of Education violated FOIA when it led those attending its May 2012 meeting to believe that it would not take action on the listed agenda item, "Superintendent Contract."
That was because Martino, who was president at the time, inadvertently skipped over the agenda item before the board went into a second, closed-door executive session to finish its discussion on the personnel matter, DOJ's opinion stated. The board came back into open session and held a split, 3-2, to give Thomas an extension before an empty auditorium.
DOJ attorneys ruled that the misstep was unintentional, but they opined that Capital had to hold a new vote.
Thomas's current five-year contract was set to expire on June 30, 2013. But the provision that automatically renewed his contract for the 2013-2014 school year was included in his contract as required by state law, he said. "Failure on the part of the Board or the Superintendent to notify the other in writing by certified mail, no later than six months prior to the expiration of the Agreement, of either party's intent not to renew the Agreement, will automatically result in a one-year extension of the existing Agreement," the contract states in part.
Page 2 of 2 - Thomas said his annual salary was $165,785.98.
The December opinion was Capital's second FOIA violation within the last two years. The state Department of Justice also determined in a Jan. 5, 2012 opinion that the Capital School District violated Delaware's Freedom of Information Act when its board of education approved pay raises for administrators as a last minute agenda item at its Aug. 24, 2012 meeting. The Capital Board of Education had to hold another vote on Feb. 8, 2012 to approve the pay raises retroactively.
Both Kay Dietz-Sass and Thomas said Capital had done an exemplary job of interpreting and following open government laws by and large. But, this was another lesson learned and applicable to future board votes, the school officials said.