Willoughby Gets New Three Year Contract

March 1, 2014
Dwayne Page
School Board Chairman Johnny Lattimore and Director Mark Willoughby

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby has been offered a new three year contract by the Board of Education. He is expected to sign it.

The school board met in special session Friday night and voted 4-3 to enter into a new agreement with Willoughby, which will be from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Board members John David Foutch, Charles Robinson, Kenny Rhody, and Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted in favor. Members Billy Miller, Doug Stephens, and W.J. (Dub) Evins, III voted against it, preferring a one year contract instead.

The agreement establishes Willoughby's base salary to be $97,675 per year plus benefits and any additional increases in pay he may be due if state and or local governments should grant future raises.

Other terms are essentially the same as the old contract except for a few changes. The new deal broadens the provision for which the director may be terminated for cause. It drops a section under which the director would have had to repay the school board for the costs of conducting a search for a new director up to $10,000, if he should resign within the first year of his contract. And it waives the authority of the board to be able to transfer the director to another position in the school system, if the board should want to replace him as director.

"I think it needs to be a one year contract," said Board member Miller. "We have five members on this board that may not be here next year that are up for re-election. If he is doing a fine job, he doesn't have to worry about a job," he said.

Before the three year contract was adopted, Miller made a motion to offer Willoughby a one year deal. Board member Stephens seconded the motion but it failed on a 4-3 vote. Evins was the only other member to vote with them.

"The reason I am voting "yes" (for a one year contract) is because I was elected by the people and they know I am very conservative in my actions. I have nothing against Mr. Willoughby and I think he could spend ten years here doing the job that he is doing right now. But my vote is "yes", said Stephens.

"My vote is "no" (for a one year contract)," said Board member Foutch. "I am not going to be sitting in this seat another year. (Foutch is not running for re-election) I feel like the person that sits in this seat needs some time to understand the functions of this board, to get their feet on the ground and to see what is going on. A year (director) contract won't give that person (new board member) the depth (understanding) that they need. For that reason I have to vote "no", he said.

Second district member Robinson voted "no" on a one year contract saying he thought Willoughby has earned another three years. "When you look at the state report card, you can see that we are progressively moving forward at a good pace but maybe not as fast as we probably need to. But our overall school system is going in the right direction under the guidance of Mr. Willoughby," he said.

Third district member Rhody then made a motion for the three year contract. Foutch seconded the motion and Board members Robinson and Lattimore joined them in voting its approval. The other three members voted against it.

Miller was concerned that some members of the board were voting on the contract when they may not have completely read it. Although a majority of the board members participated in recent workshops in coming to terms with Willloughby on a new contract, the final draft was not presented to the board until the meeting Friday night. Director Willoughby said he had not made any changes in the proposal but he had sent it to Chuck Cagle for review. Cagle is an attorney for the School Boards Association who usually represents the local school system in legal matters.

Shortly after the meeting was gaveled to order, Chairman Lattimore called for a ten minute recess to give the board more time to look over the new contract. Miller found that at least one provision was left out of the final draft that he had requested be put in during previous workshops.

Specifically, Miller wanted to add a clause that would require Willoughby to repay the school system for the cost of conducting a new search for a director, if he should resign at any time during his employment contract. Under the existing agreement, Willoughby was responsible for this cost only if he were to leave during the first year of his contract.

Director Willoughby said Cagle told him that this provision was not legally enforceable and should not be included in the new agreement.

Miller also wanted a clause carried over from the existing contract that would give the board the authority to transfer the director to another position within the school system, if the members should ever want to replace him as director. If he should refuse to be transferred, the director's contract could be terminated. The new contract waives the board's authority to transfer the director.

Willoughby said Cagle also recommended making this change. He said a transfer provision is not needed since the Board has the right in the contract to terminate the Director at any time for cause.

Miller moved that both the "repayment" and "transfer" provisions be added back to the new contract saying he felt it was the board's fiduciary responsibility to protect its own interests and those of the taxpayers and not just provide the best deal for Mr. Willoughby. Miller's motion died on a 4-3 vote.

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