Calvin Watts. FILE PHOTO, Kent Reporter

Calvin Watts. FILE PHOTO, Kent Reporter

Kent School Board postpones decision on superintendent’s contract extension

Directors had concerns about specifics, notification of what they were voting on

Whether or not Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts gets a contract extension beyond July 2021 remains to be determined.

The Kent School District Board of Directors had planned to vote on the superintendent’s contract during a virtual special meeting Wednesday night. Instead, the board tabled a vote until a future meeting, with a date yet to be announced, because of potential violations of board policy for notification and the need for more specific language about the vote.

“The original plan was to have a discussion around a recommendation whether or not to extend or not extend the superintendent’s contract and it appears that there was confusion about violating policy 1420,” Board Vice President Denise Daniels said at the start of the meeting that turned out to be a discussion about why they shouldn’t vote.

Board director Michele Bettinger responded to Daniels.

“The language that was on there (the meeting agenda) this (Wednesday) morning said the board will take action on the superintendent contract for Dr. Calvin J. Watts,” Bettinger said. “I know in executive session we had some discussion about it, but there was no specificity.”

Bettinger said a vote on Watts’ contract in 2019 had a resolution attached and a contract vote in 2018 had an addendum attached. She added that the board just approved policy 1420 requiring supporting documentation three days in advance of a meeting to board members and made available 24 hours prior to interested residents. There were no details in the agenda packet about the contract.

“My concern is that we always follow our policy,” Bettinger said. “Believe me, I would like to get this vote taken but with no specificity I feel it’s our responsibility to follow our policies as much as possible. …I didn’t see how we could take a vote tonight.”

Curtis Leonard, a district attorney, said during the meeting that two board members contacted him earlier in the day with concerns about voting on the contract.

“In an abundance of caution, we thought it would be best to pull this (item), or it’s too late to pull it in the sense we can’t amend the agenda, but we can have a discussion and bring it to vote at future meeting because we want to make sure the appearance of such that we provide the specificity in the actual description,” he said. “No documents need to be provided, it’s more about how the superintendent contract designation doesn’t give enough notice to what the action would be.”

Board director Maya Vengadasalam said she should have read the agenda closer.

“I thought clearly we would indicate this had to do with the extension and not the entire contract because the entire contract takes time,” she said. “Had I seen it didn’t specify that, I would have brought it up. I take partial responsibility for that and I apologize to Dr. Watts because I don’t think it’s fair to him that we are postponing this again. I just feel really awful at this point we don’t have a decision but I was not comfortable just having a blanket statement.”

Bettinger agreed with Vengadasalam that if the sentence had said something about taking action, she would have been comfortable with it.

Daniels later summarized the nearly 25-minute discussion with what needs to happen next with the contract item.

“So being clear that there would be no documentation but the statement instead of saying superintendent contract, it would say specifically to vote on whether or not to extend the superintendent contract,” Daniels said. “Is that the line that needs to be in there?”

“Correct,” attorney Leonard responded.

Vengadasalam suggested the board schedule an earlier meeting and not wait until its regular August meeting to vote on the extension.

“We want to make very sure we have it specific,” Board President Leslie Hamada said. “It’s a learning process for all of us.”

Contract history

The board voted in 2019 to end automatic renewal of Watts’ contract, which expires July 30, 2021.

In 2018, the board approved a rollover and addendum to his contract, not an extension. That put the contract in place until 2021.

Both of those votes came despite teachers and parents voicing their dissatisfaction with Watts’ leadership and his handling of the district budget crisis in 2018. Parents called for his resignation and teachers cast a vote of no confidence.

The 2018 contract added language on conflicts of interest and outside consulting work. It kept Watts’ annual salary at $254,500, but stipulated the board will consider a percentage increase before July 1 of each year.

Watts was hired by Kent in 2015 at an annual salary of $250,00 after working as an assistant superintendent for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Suwanee, Ga. He replaced Edward Lee Vargas, who stepped down after six years in Kent to accept a job as executive vice president of AVID, a national nonprofit college readiness program in California.

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