Lodi Unified School District trustees voted to extend Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer’s contract through June 2014 at their meeting Tuesday.
Although he complimented the strides he feels the district’s top leader has made in recent months, trustee Ken Davis voted against the extension, citing financial concerns with her annual salary.
“She has come an extremely long way since 2008,” Davis said. “I want her to stay, and I really do. We’ve had our issues ... but I just can’t at this time see spending $675,000.”
Nichols-Washer earns an annual salary of $215,000 plus an estimated $10,000 in other incentives, such as a car allowance. She does not receive free benefits.
“You do the math,” Davis said.
Unlike other district employees, the superintendent is hired at the will of the school board.
Last September, the former board extended Nichols-Washer’s contract through 2013. There were no other changes to the contract, and her annual salary was unchanged.
Since then, there are several new faces on the board, including George Neely, Ruth Davis, Ron Heberle and Michael Abdallah, all of whom were critical of Nichols-Washer during their campaigns. All four were seated in December.
Trustees have been discussing the contract behind closed doors prior to most regular school board meetings for months, but Tuesday is the first time it was discussed publicly.
Before the vote, Neely recalled a day last December when he and Heberle sat down with Nichols-Washer to assure her that they did not leave their day jobs to get rid of her. Instead, he said, they invited her to pursue with them a path to make Lodi Unified an education destination.
“Dr. Washer took that challenge and ran with it,” Neely said. “Being one of the superintendent’s biggest critics (before being elected), I appreciate everything she has done in order to move the district forward.”
The board president ticked off a number of issues she has handled in the last year, including addressing a substitute shortage and overseeing a new program, which is in the works, where teachers will provide evaluation input on site administrators who will, in turn, review district administrators.
Cassel, too, sang Nichols-Washer’s praises.
“Cathy Washer and this board, I believe, have a very positive relationship, and that’s what this district needs,” she said.
Last year, Davis was also the lone dissenter against Nichols-Washer’s contract, and made clear the reasons why he would not approve extending it. At the time, he said he felt she had not performed at the level of satisfaction he expected, and called hers a leadership vacuum at its worst.
Since then, there have been questions on how the last evaluation was handled. When Davis publicly called into question why evaluation scores were changed after trustees last August met in closed session, then-President Richard Jones said he left the process open-ended.
Since being hired in 2008 to replace former Superintendent Bill Huyett, Nichols-Washer has had her share of naysayers.
In April 2010, she received a no-confidence vote by the teachers’ union, and she has weathered three straight years of spending scrutiny as the district has repeatedly cut programs and personnel.
In 2009, however, she voluntarily took a $15,000 pay cut from her $230,000 annual salary in an effort to help close the district’s multimillion-dollar deficit. She said she took the 6-percent cut in the hope that other employee unions would do the same.
When trustees approved the 2009-10 contract, they opted to consider restoring her salary to the original negotiated amount at the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year, depending on the budget. At the time, Nichols-Washer said she was not anticipating a raise and instead believed the board would focus its annual review on her goals and plans for the future.
The pay cut has not yet been restored.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.