Ft. Myers News-Press | Bill Smith | March 9, 2022
A proposed contract for the Lee County School Board’s choice for a new superintendent of schools calls for annual pay of $255,000 per year.
Lee School Board members reviewed a proposed contract Tuesday and proposed some changes that will now be considered by Christopher Bernier. The school board picked Bernier for the Lee job several weeks ago.
The changes will be presented to Bernier, the chief of staff to the Clark County school district in Nevada, and his lawyers. They could reject the new language or ask for modifications.
The board began discussions on the pact at a board workshop meeting Tuesday afternoon and finalized its review at the end of the regular evening session.
“I think we are able to provide for a final draft,” said Kathy Dupuy-Bruno, the school board attorney as the board began its discussions on the agreement.
“The board can make changes. As of (Monday) evening negotiators (for Bernier) gave us the thumbs up,” Dupuy told the school board at the afternoon session Tuesday.
Review of the contract came during an uncertain environment for the next superintendent of schools with possible wholesale changes in board membership and a bill pending in Tallahassee that could make the Lee superintendent of schools an elected position.
The Florida Senate is expected to consider Thursday a House-passed bill calling for a referendum in this year’s election that could make the Lee superintendent of schools an elected position.
Wholesale changes in board membership are also possible on Election Day, with a slate of four candidates seeking to displace board members up for another term. Election of all four could mean a different direction for the Lee County public schools.
While salary was not an issue, finalizing the contract was fraught with long discussions about relatively minor provisions in the proposed agreement.
Board members approved contract language that could protect Bernier in the event of a dramatic shift in political control of the school district.
One provision would entitle him to another job in the system at the same rate of pay if he is displaced from his position as superintendent.
Another section of the contract requires board members to share complete information they receive about the schools with the superintendent.
That provision might give Bernier specific reason to sue for wrongful termination if he is fired and it is discovered that board members failed to provide the required information.
Board members took time for extensive discussion of matters such as how to compensate the superintendent for automobile expenses in traveling to events at schools in the 1,212-square-mile district. He will be paid a $500 per month automobile allowance.
Point-by-point review during the afternoon session was paused to allow students to prepare in the board meeting room for a music presentation at the regular school board meeting Tuesday evening.
Once both parties sign the agreement, Bernier, who says he goes by the name “Dr. B.” on the job, could take over as superintendent in May.
But his presence could be felt in the district earlier. The 97,000-student Lee School District would also pay him $15,000 to work as a consultant to the district in developing a plan for his first 100 days as superintendent.
The school board does not take formal votes at workshop meetings. The next board meeting is scheduled for March 28.
The contract provides for an annual review of Bernier’s performance and an “interim assessment” at the middle of his first year.
Bernier’s pay is 22% higher than the pay for former superintendent, Greg Adkins, who was paid $209,000 per year in a four-year contract that expired at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Bernier would be paid $20,000 in “moving and transition expenses” to move from Nevada to Florida with half the funds to be paid up front.
He and the board agreed on the same vacation allowance as other administrators who work a full 12-month year. Bernier will be allowed to sell back up to six days of vacation if he does not take the time off. He will receive $2,400 per year to buy life insurance.
In addition to the 100-day plan for school operations, Bernier’s duties as a consultant include sit-downs with school board members and staff to “identify system successes and identify areas of improvement.”
As a consultant, he would also provide guidance and feedback to interim Superintendent Kenneth Savage while Bernier completes his move to Southwest Florida.
Bernier was selected as the board’s top choice for superintendent in February. At the time, a workshop poll favored Bernier by a 5-2 vote.
He was officially offered the job by a 6-1 vote with Melisa Giovanelli voting for the other finalist, Michael Ramirez, deputy superintendent in the Denver school district.
Bernier’s experience includes more than 10 years in the Nevada school district and 35 years with school districts in Florida.
He left Orange County schools after 20 years with the district for the position in the Clark County schools.
In heading to Nevada, he rejoined his former Orange County boss, who is still superintendent in Clark County, despite having been fired last fall and reinstated several months later.