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Chairman's Gavel: Superintendent contracts

Chairman's Gavel: Superintendent contracts

By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development


Though it often doesn’t draw much public attention during the superintendent search process, the contract your board negotiates with a new chief executive should be carefully crafted to ensure it reflects the interests of both the board and superintendent.

When you, as board president, and the board’s attorney are leading the contract negotiations with the superintendent and his or her representative, you likely will use your most recent superintendent contract as the starting point.

But here are few pointers based on concerns and questions Alabama board presidents have had in recent years:

  • Contract length. For appointed county superintendents, Ala. Code 16-9-1 specifies the contract may only be two to four years. However, there is no such limit for appointed city superintendents. The typical Alabama superintendent contract is three years. This likely will give the superintendent time to establish a vision, put programs into place and begin to see them coming to fruition. Likewise, a three-year commitment from the board provides the superintendent with the promise of stability he or she will need before taking on the challenges of the position. When deciding the length, also consider your board’s situation. Do you have several board seats likely to turn over during the upcoming contract period? Consider how this might impact the board/superintendent relationship – particularly if you foresee that the expectations of new board members might not match those of the current board. And, as unpleasant as it is to contemplate, you must also begin with the end in mind. A longer contract may be needed to lure a highly sought after leader to take the superintendent position or protect him or her from local politics. But, in hindsight, will that same contract create an unduly large financial burden if a buyout becomes desirable?
  • Strive to create a contract that balances the stability the superintendent needs and should expect with the ability of the board to end the contract if it is needed.
  • Rollover provisions. As with contract length, be cautious when considering a provision which causes the superintendent’s contract to be extended automatically. Rollover, or “evergreen,” provisions often state the superintendent’s contract will be automatically extended for one year each summer unless the board notifies him or her the contract won’t be renewed. Thus, on an initial three-year contract, there are always three years remaining. In the alternative, some contracts require that the superintendent automatically receives a one-year extension if the board fails to evaluate him or her by an annual deadline specified.
  • The concerns these provisions have raised with some Alabama boards are the same as those with contract length. However, you may can strike a more equitable balance if you specify the board could act to extend the contract for one year at the end of term if it deemed appropriate.
  • Notice of nonrenewal. Around Alabama, contracts vary as to how much notice the board must give the superintendent if it intends to nonrenew him or her. Some specify 90 days, others 180 days and still others, a calendar year. As board president, make it your business to know the provisions of your superintendent’s contract. It will be your responsibility to ensure the board discusses the prospect of renewal with the superintendent in a timely manner. And, again, attempt to strike a balance between giving the superintendent reasonable notice and meeting the needs of the board.
  • Superintendent’s notice to the board. As a matter of practice, most Alabama boards release their superintendent with 30 days’ notice if he or she wants to take another position. You may, however, want to specify how much notice you expect your chief executive to give the board if he plans to retire or otherwise leave at the end of the contract. Again, practice varies. Some boards require six months’ notice. Either way, it is advisable to require enough notice that the board will have time to plan for and conduct a quality search for a new leader.
  • Evaluation requirements. Some Alabama superintendents’ contracts specify that the superintendent is to be evaluated annually. Others are silent on the matter. Again, as president, make a point to know what is required and the consequences of failing to evaluate as required. When the contract is being drafted, consult your board attorney about whether you need language that specifies that the board’s failure to evaluate the superintendent annually cannot be used as a defense against termination.
  • Benefits and leave. This is an area increasingly being used a negotiating point in superintendent contracts. As a board, you may opt to: provide a housing allowance and/or moving expenses; pay out-of-pocket insurance costs (premiums or even copays); provide a car or a flat monthly fee for travel; provide additional vacation time; and provide for additional retirement benefits or an annuity. All of these can be ways to increase the superintendent’s total compensation.
  • Also, you may want to cap how much total vacation time the superintendent may accrue and how much (if any) he or she will be paid for unused leave should the contract be nonrenewed.

In short, no matter how upbeat and optimistic you are when negotiating a contract with a new superintendent, always begin with the end in mind and work closely with the board attorney to ensure that the final document is fair to the board as well as your new leader.


Originally published in May 2014.

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