Legalities

December 15, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 12

Legalities

Roger Hanshaw

By Howard E. Seufer Jr., Esq.

Q: What options does a county board of education have if it wishes, during the term of its superintendent’s current contract, to “add years” to the contract and/or pay its superintendent more salary than is provided by the superintendent’s current contract?

There are strict legal limits on the power of a county board of education to employ a superintendent for a period longer than specified in the superintendent’s current contract. School boards are also strictly limited by law in their power to pay a superintendent more salary than is provided for in the superintendent’s current contract.

Action by a county board that violates those limits may be null and void.  Board members who vote with the majority in violation of the limits risk a taxpayer’s suit to recover from them any public funds illegally spent under an invalid extension of the superintendent’s current contract or an invalid increase in the superintendent’s salary. Additionally, actions taken by a superintendent under an invalid contract could conceivably be set aside.

For those reasons, a school board is well advised to abide by the rules summarized below that are set by the Legislature, enforced by the courts, or appear in official written interpretations of school law by the State Superintendent of Schools. (Different limitations may apply when a superintendent leaves office before the end of his or her appointed term and another person is appointed to serve in his or her place, or when a superintendent waits until after June 1 to resign as of June 30 of the final year of his or her contract.)

1.  A superintendent’s appointment, as reflected in the superintendent’s written contract, must begin on July 1. The term must be for at least one year. However, it cannot exceed four years, and the length of the term must be reflected in the written contract.

2.  A school board’s vote to appoint its superintendent can occur only between January 1 and June 1 of the calendar year in which the appointment takes effect.

3.  A superintendent’s salary for each year of his or her term of appointment must be fixed by the school board on or before June 1 of the year in which the appointment takes effect and must be reflected in the written contract.

4.  Once the board and superintendent enter into a signed contract that sets out the length of the appointment and the superintendent’s salary, the contract cannot be modified to increase or decrease either the length of the superintendent’s assignment or the superintendent’s salary for the period covered by the contract.

5.  If a superintendent is to continue serving as superintendent after the expiration of the superintendent’s current contract term, the board must vote to reappoint the superintendent for another term of at least one year and no more than four years. However, the vote must occur only between January 1 and June 1 of the calendar year in which the current contract will expire. Earlier votes are not authorized.

6.  A county board must, by vote on or before June 1, fix the salary to be paid its superintendent for each year of any such continued service under the new contract.Despite these hard and fast rules, a county board can take steps before the deadlines to prepare for another contract with its superintendent when the current contract expires, and are encouraged to do so.  We will explore these methods in a future Legalities article.  We will also discuss strategies to employ during contract negotiations to ensure that both sides remain satisfied with the contract, while at the same time appreciating the process a board must follow to get there.  

 

Editor’s Note: Howard E. Seufer Jr., Esq., is a partner at Bowles Rice LLP (Charleston). He leads the Bowles Rice Education Law Group, ranked #1 in West Virginia School Law by The Best Lawyers in America® and listed as "Top Tier" in West Virginia for Education Law by U.S. News & World Report's 2017 Best Law Firms.