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    Decision day for Hinesley's contract

    The School Board will meet today to consider whether to accept the superintendent's controversial contract demands.

    By KELLY RYAN GILMER
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 11, 2001


    LARGO -- Amid uncertainty and tough economic times, the Pinellas School Board is scheduled today to consider approving a lucrative new contract to keep longtime Superintendent Howard Hinesley.

    Just last week, it seemed likely that Hinesley, superintendent since 1990, had at least the needed four votes to stay in Pinellas through December 2004.

    But now board member Tom Todd, who has voiced support for Hinesley, is in the hospital and won't be able to attend the meeting. Late Monday, it was still uncertain whether Todd might be able to attend the meeting by phone.

    Board members come into today's meeting after being inundated in recent days with phone calls and e-mails about Hinesley's contract. While a couple of people -- including some from the Pinellas County Education Foundation -- advised the board to spend what it takes to keep Hinesley, the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative.

    The letters sounded the same concerns: that when the district can't afford to pay teachers more or staff schools adequately it surely can't afford giving its top leader a big raise. They said Hinesley was being "unreasonable" and should face cuts like the rest of the district's employees.

    "Just a note to gently remind you of the message it will send to the hundreds of teachers who are already feeling very discouraged and unappreciated at all levels if you vote to give such a generous raise," wrote Dunedin Elementary teacher Sharon Coltrain.

    Kennedy Middle social studies teacher William Andrew Shaw wrote, "I would find it to be a tough pill to swallow if you approve an extravagant raise for (Hinesley) while teachers are worried about having paper for the copier."

    Hinesley's contract demands include: permission to do consulting work during his vacation time; raising the amount contributed to a tax-sheltered annuity from $9,500 annually to the maximum the IRS allows, which eventually will be $15,000; and folding a $3,000 bonus he had been donating to charity into his base salary of $159,509. That would make his base salary $162,509.

    The most controversial section of the contract calls for the School Board to buy Hinesley a $690,000 permanent life insurance policy. The payments would be stretched out for four years, with each year costing more than $61,000 for the premiums and taxes. That is higher than previously thought.

    Under the proposal, the board would be obligated to make three payments for the three years of the contract. If Hinesley and the board agree to extend his contract for a fourth year, the board would pay the final payment to make the policy self-sustaining. If Hinesley leaves, he would pay the final payment and any tax burden that goes with it.

    Over four years, the board's obligation on the premiums would not exceed $140,000. But that doesn't include the tax liability, which adds about $79,000 more to the cost. Hinesley would not have access to the cash value of the policy until it becomes self-sustaining without permission from the board.

    Since last week, the board has gotten about 40 e-mails, mostly from educators.

    Hinesley said he understands the board's angst and the public's negative reaction. But Monday, he did not appear willing to back off his demands.

    "I don't disagree that the times are bad," Hinesley said. "I feel that if I was in a different part of my career and didn't have these other options, I might have a different perspective."

    The Board meets at 1 p.m. in district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.

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