The Wake County school board approved a poison-pill amendment to Superintendent Jim Merrill’s contract on Tuesday, giving him up to two years of severance pay worth more than $560,000 if he’s fired from his contract early.
The contract amendment, unanimously approved without board comment, comes about nine months before elections in November could result in a brand-new school board. All nine seats on the Democratic-led school board are on the November ballot under new election maps drawn up by the Republican-led General Assembly.
Under the revised contract, if Merrill is fired unilaterally he’d be entitled to two years pay or the pay for the remaining time of his contract, whichever is less. His contract runs through June 2019.
Also on Tuesday, the school board approved 3-percent raise for 13 of Merrill’s top lieutenants. The contracts for 15 members of Merrill’s leadership were extended through June 2019 to mirror Merrill’s contract length.
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Merrill started as superintendent in August 2013. He replaced Tony Tata, who was fired in September 2012 a year after the board had changed hands from a Republican majority. Tata received a severance package of $253,625 – one year’s salary and other costs.
Previously, Merrill’s contract guaranteed he’d receive one year’s severance pay if he was fired unilaterally by the board. His base salary is $281,302 after the board voted in October to give him $12,397 in raises and one-time bonuses.
There’s precedent for the Wake school board to change the severance packages for superintendents in election years. In 2009 before the election that shifted control to Republicans, the board had modified Superintendent Del Burns’ contract so he’d get 18 months pay if he was fired early. Burns resigned after the board majority changed.