During a meeting Thursday, the Anniston Board of Education postponed voting on a contract for its recently hired superintendent, Darren Douthitt. Two board members had concerns about the cost of some of the contract benefits and wanted to renegotiate them with Douthitt before voting.
The board plans to reconvene at 1 p.m. today to vote on the contract.
"I want to make sure all the board is comfortable with this," board President Donna Ross said after withdrawing the recommendation to vote on the contract.
The proposed contract, negotiated earlier this week by Douthitt, Ross, board member William Hutchings and the board's attorney, offers Douthitt a base annual salary of $132,600. The board first offered Douthitt a base annual salary of $120,000 when it hired him last week. After benefits, including travel and retirement, Douthitt's annual salary in the proposed contract jumps to more than $186,000.
In contrast, current Anniston Superintendent Joan Frazier's total annual salary is $136,530, including benefits. Frazier will retire at the end of the school year.
Douthitt, 48, is a former Anniston High School principal and current superintendent of the Butler County school system. He was one of four superintendent candidates the board interviewed this month.
Board members Mary Klinefelter and C.K. Huguley had several objections to various benefits listed in the contract, including annual travel expenses. Klinefelter said the contract's $7,200 per year for travel expenses was too high and should be around $3,000 or $4,000.
Klinefelter also said she thought Douthitt's annual base pay was too high, noting that the board's advertisement for the job offered a salary range of $115,000 to $125,000.
"Let's remember our budget and how many employees we have," Klinefelter said. "All of them when they applied knew what the salary range was."
Conversation about the contract became heated at times, with Hutchings at one point accusing Klinefelter and Huguley of nitpicking and working together to derail the hiring process.
"You're trying to sabotage the board," Hutchings said.
Klinefelter and Huguley, however, strongly denied the accusations, saying they only recently received copies of the contract and just had questions about it.
"I think it's fair for us to look at this," Huguley said.
Board member Bill Robison said he was ready to approve the contract as is, despite agreeing with Klinefelter that the salary and benefits package was higher than he wanted.
"I'd prefer everything to be lower, but I want to pay what we need to, to get a first-class superintendent," Robison said. "I think that's what we're getting."
In a work session before the meeting, the board discussed its school reorganization efforts. Frazier brought up the topic to get the board's latest feelings on the issue, which she could then convey to Douthitt when he officially becomes superintendent. The board has been trying to come up with a reorganization plan to deal with declining enrollment.
The board must go back to the drawing board regarding school reorganization after the city of Anniston decided not to buy Anniston Middle School earlier this month. Initially, the board planned to sell the school (disperse its sixth-grade students among the elementary schools and the city was to have marketed the site for retail development.
Every board member agreed that at least one school had to close, but did not recommend one in the meeting.
"We need to decide what size of a school we can support financially, then see what space we have available at each school," Klinefelter said. "And we need to see where all the students are living ... we don't want to be transporting them from 'A' all the way to 'Z.'"
The board agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Feb. 5 to get more details about student enrollment and where students currently live before making a decision on which school to close.
Also during the meeting, Ross stepped down as board president, having fulfilled her annual term. The board unanimously voted Robison as the new president.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
Anniston elementary schools
Enrollment (Sept. 2013) Employees
Cobb 118 11
Constantine 196 12
Golden Springs 223 13
Randolph Park 239 16
Tenth Street 293 21