In eight days, the Hamilton County Board of Education will discuss whether to extend the contract of Superintendent Bryan Johnson.
At this point, if they want to extend it, they'd have to give him a new contract, per the terms of his original pact. We think they ought to do it.
Johnson has been a breath of fresh air for the district, which stagnated under previous and interim leaders whose desire to keep things in the road seemed to be their main goal. He, on the other hand, has been willing to put his weight behind new strategies and taken on controversial issues such as rezoning and a 10-year facilities master plan.
Improved test scores, including some in Opportunity Zone schools, have been one of the results. The first hard look at district-wide school facility needs in recent memory has been another.
Gigged about taking on so much at a recent facilities plan meeting, Johnson smiled and muttered something about being "too young and dumb" to know better.
But we think he saw the district he inherited in 2017 as one that didn't need tinkering around the edges. Instead, the school district would require uncomfortable but necessary changes.
Now, the school system needs someone to keep it on that positive trajectory.
Johnson's contract is not up officially until the summer of 2021. Extending his tenure could not be discussed until a year prior to its end, according to the current contract. However, the board voted last fall to open the door for contract negotiations.
Unfortunately, between about March 1 and this summer, two major impediments will prohibit or practically prohibit those discussions.
The first is the district budget season, which will encompass community meetings, work sessions and a budget workshop. In the midst of those is a presentation of the final facilities master plan recommendations. The second is a blackout period for contract negotiations between May and September, which will be campaign season for school board members in four districts whose seats are on the August general election ballot.
A draft copy of a new contract for Johnson — put together with input by the board attorney, some school board members and the superintendent — would offer him a salary of $240,000, about $23,000 more than he currently makes. It also would offer $20,000 in addition compensation if student performance and district achievement goals outlined in the system's five-year strategic plan are reached.
It further stipulates the board put $10,000 a year into his retirement plan, that he be allowed to be paid for professional activities as long as they don't "detract from the duties of his employment," an $825-per-month vehicle allowance, paid time off and other benefits.
Johnson's current contract, with the exception of the retirement plan boost, already grants him most of those benefits. His potential compensation for performance goals also would be increased, and so would his potential outside compensation for nonschool professional activities. His 2017 contract called for base pay of $197,000, but that has increased with raises given to all certified staff and with performance raises (the salary bonuses he earned in 2019 he put toward student scholarships in honor of his late mother).
For average Joes, the thought of a $23,000 raise and the generous benefits are unheard of. But most average Joes don't set the agenda for more than 44,000 students whose 88,000 or so parents and guardians are rightly expecting their child to set the world on fire.
Like it or not, a contract like the one suggested for Johnson will be given to superintendents of similar sized school districts and to other corporate CEOs who have to answer to board members.
Given our druthers, we'd pack out a contract with a smaller salary and a large number of performance goals and stretch goals to be met. But superintendents themselves can only do so much. How students perform is also the responsibility of teachers and the students themselves.
So, yes, the contract will sound outlandish to some, but it's not out of line. And the thought of Johnson seeing through his goal of the district becoming the fastest improving one in the state and of the implementation of whatever master facilities plan will be adopted carries with it a sense of continuity.
The superintendent has, in all likelihood, already been approached to lead other districts and certainly will be in the future. He's always coy to such talk, repeatedly saying Hamilton County is a great place to raise a family.
But if we want a dynamic, young superintendent to keep moving the district forward, to keep taking on big challenges that others wouldn't in the past, and to keep abreast of the best strategies for teachers and students, Johnson should be offered a new contract.
We hope school board members will do just that next week.