School Committee Agrees to Renew CFO's Contract in Split Decision
Committee members voted 5-2 Thursday to bring back the district's chief financial officer, Diane Johnson.
The Arlington School Committee wants Chief Financial Officer Diane Johnson to stay with the district. However, the decision to renew her contract Thursday night was not unanimous.
After a recommendation by Superintendent Kathleen Bodie to keep Johnson, school committee members weighed in, ultimately agreeing with Bodie in a 5-2 vote, with members William Hayner and Joseph Curro Jr. dissenting.
Johnson’s current deal ends June 30 of this year, but the committee had to act on her renewal by April 1. The terms and duration of her new contract still need to be negotiated.
While Bodie praised Johnson Thursday for dramatically improving the district’s budget process, among other things, Hayner raised some concerns, with Johnson but more with the renewal system overall.
He said that he was “deeply disturbed” that he had to make a decision on Johnson without having access to Bodie’s performance review of her. He said, without the review, he had to make his decision based on personal accounts and what constituents have told him. He said constituents have questioned the way Johnson deals with the public, among other drawbacks.
“I regret that these are the determinants I must use,” Hayner said, “but I have to vote no on the renewal.”
Johnson, who has been the district’s CFO for roughly two-and-a-half years, was in place when the district’s $1.5 million budget deficit was uncovered in August 2010. However, she was not in charge of implementing the district’s fiscal year 2010 budget, which is said to have created the shortfall.
“Looking back on the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly,” Curro said. “The shortfall undermined a lot of confidence in us, but it was unfairly placed on the CFO’s shoulders.”
Curro said he has heard many of the same complaints as Hayner, and he said he was unhappy with the way the shortfall was communicated to committee members. However, overall, his main concerns were also procedural.
He agreed with Hayner that committee members should have access to the CFO’s evaluation; he said that a potential three-year contract could conflict with the possible consolidation of town and school finances (he preferred an 18-month deal); and he said that the renewal notification deadline should not be April 1, as it’s right in the middle of budget season.
“I can’t support the motion without any limitations on the bounds of what we’re talking about in the motion,” Curro said.
After the motion passed, Curro added an amendment to have the negotiators “consider” his procedural concerns. His amendment passed 6-1, with member Leba Heigham opposing.
Heigham said that, at this point, she believes that having committee members read administrators’ evaluations would be “overstepping boundaries” without more direction from the state.
“I think (Superintendent Bodie) is qualified to lead her administrative team,” she said.
Curro, Heigham and others did agree that stability on the district’s administrative team was important, after years of near-constant turnover.
Committee members Cindy Starks, Judson Pierce and Kirsi Allison-Ampe said they supported the renewal, in part, because of Bodie’s recommendation.
“If Bodie gives her recommendation, that shows what the evaluation should be,” Allison-Ampe said.
Pierce said he was also impressed with the budget tracking changes implemented by Johnson.
Committee member Jeff Thielman, who made the motion, said he thought it was important to send a message to those outside the district that Arlington is a place where you can grow at your job, get better and stay.