After losing re-election earlier this month, three board members of the Summit County Educational Service Center had all but accepted a request by Superintendent Linda Fuline to retire, begin collecting her pension and then be rehired by the end of the year.
That was the plan heading into a special meeting Monday afternoon. The “public” meeting, one of two required by state law before a retire/rehire can be approved, turned out to be an hour-and-20-minute closed door discussion, after which Fuline took the request off the table.
Fuline said the move would have saved the ESC $21,000. She cited “personal reasons” for not pursuing the option. It had “nothing at all to do with the board,” she said.
One board member, however, had a different reason for the last-minute change of heart.
“Every board has someone who causes controversy. And Joe Masich is that board member in this case,” said Vice President Alyce Altwies.
After speaking with other board members, Altwies said Masich raised concerns early Monday morning about finances and the possibility of a new board taking office in January and being saddled by the lame-duck board’s decision to approve a four-year contract two years ahead of schedule.
Fuline will continue working under her current contract, last negotiated in 2012 at a base salary of $111,468. Under the contract, which expires in 2015, the ESC picks up all employer and employee retirement contributions, provides health and life insurance, includes a $10,000 annual annuity and the possibility of board-approved raises.
Fuline, who headed up the Summit County ESC in 2006 after serving as superintendent of Southeast schools in Portage County, made the request for the board to consider the retire/rehire option in October.
The option would allow Fuline to retire, forfeit a portion of her salary, begin collecting a public employee’s pension and essentially continue working.
A split between outgoing and remaining members — including Masich and Ryan Martin, who either voted no or abstained from initiating the closed door discussion Monday — created dissension over whether the newly elected board, taking office in January, or the current lame-duck board should decide if Fuline would lead the ESC through 2018.
“I’m interested in protecting the taxpayer’s money,” Masich said, stressing that he is not accusing anyone of impropriety. “It just seems like there is a lot of money being spent.”
Ousted President Susan Lobalzo said after the meeting that she had looked forward to exploring the option, which others appeared ready to approve by December.
“I have no problem, personally, granting her request to retire and rehire,” Altwies said. “She has been a phenomenal superintendent.”
Altwies commended Fuline for creating programs for autistic and struggling students during her time leading the ESC.
Along with Altwies and Lobalzo, board member Dow O. Wolfe III will step down in January when newly elected members Timothy R. Gallagher, Patricia F. Weber and Ashley Carr take office.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.