We can well understand the Lee County School Board's loyalty to Dr. James Browder.
Tapped when the district was in turmoil, Dr. Browder has brought stability and progress to a system that certainly has had its share of growing pains with, unfortunately, many more ahead. Now, with as many as 600 positions in peril and numerous programs on the chopping block, we also agree he is the proper person to lead the district through the financial challenges ahead.
We commend the board for recognizing Dr. Browder's worth. Still, four of its members have nevertheless gone far astray as they seem to think that loyalty is best displayed by blind allegiance.
A request to "retire," grab a $240,000 package from the state's controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program, and then come back 30 days later to his superintendent's post at full salary of $167,815 per year? No problem.
Elimination of an ethics clause in Dr. Browder's employment contract? No problem.
A $342,000 golden parachute that gives Dr. Browder two year's salary even if he's fired for cause or chooses to quit while his contract is in effect? With layoffs looming and art programs doomed? No problem.
Free rein to indulge in snipe fests that take to task those among the public who dare to question district decisions? No problem.
The right to take on board members who dare to dissent against this bobblehead mentality? Apparently, no problem.
With the ink on his new go-ahead-and-fire-me contract still wet, Dr. Browder last week fired back at the one school board member who has had the gumption to ask some tough questions, precisely the role of an elected official.
When board member Bob Chilmonik asked the superintendent at a budget workshop meeting last Friday if he would be willing to reinstate the ethics clause of his contract, Dr. Browder's response was less than professional
"No," replied Dr. Browder. "I will tell you when I will put it back, when the governor replaces you on the board with an acceptable school board member."
Let us point out to Dr. Browder some things he may have missed. One, like it or not - reality or not - he works for the board. One does not speak to one's boss in that manner, not ever, and especially not in public. Two, Mr. Chilmonik is not only a duly elected school board member, he is a duly re-elected school board member, easily winning his second term in office in a primary two years ago although he had two challengers. Dr. Browder's comment not only was disrespectful to Mr. Chilmonik, it was egregiously disrespectful of the voters who endorsed at the ballot box Mr. Chilmonik's approach to his office.
School board chair Jane E. Kuckel should have addressed the comment immediately. As she did not, members Steven Teuber, Jeanne Dozier or Elinor Scricca should have not only seconded but endorsed Mr. Chilmonik's request for a reprimand made at the next formal meeting.
Their failure to do so, or to even warn Dr. Browder that such actions are both unprofessional and unacceptable, speaks volumes. But perhaps that's the price to pay for writing a six-figure check that lacks only a date before it can be cashed.
We ask Dr. Browder to apologize. It's the right thing to do. Lacking that, censure is in order. But perhaps that can only come from us, those members of the public who think a fine line has been crossed by someone we look to to set the best example.
- Breeze editorial