If the School Board chooses to non-renew Wes Bridges’ contract before January 1, he will still be guaranteed his job until 2019. And our only recourse, as a board, will be to buy out his contract in full. That will mean writing him a $450,000 check, plus whatever vacation and incidental costs he would be owed. He might as well be a Supreme Court justice. He has, essentially, a lifetime appointment.
Here is what Bridges wrote a few weeks ago — before I took office — to School Board members in a memo about his annual contract renewal.
I read that — as a I think a normal, non-lawyer human would — as referring to a one-year contract. That’s similar to the annual contract structure that any principal works under. But that reading is not correct.
Go into the contract and you see this:
I read the reference to 2011-2014 as referring to underlying terms of the deal, not its duration. I thought this meant we had automatically renewing one-year deals based on the terms of the 2011-2014 agreement. I read it that way because to think of it as an automatically renewing three-year deal seemed insane. I couldn’t believe previous School Boards would tie future School Board hands in that way.
But I was wrong. Our School Board, for multiple years now, has provided Bridges an automatically renewing three-year deal. There is no mechanism for removing him that does not involve paying him the full cost of the automatically renewing three years. Non-renewal just starts the three-year clock. At $150K per year, he’s entitled to a $450,000 payout to leave. People went nuts about the $230k we paid LeRoy.
We could remove him for cause, in theory. But it’s functionally impossible to prove cause. Remember, we couldn’t even remove Kathryn LeRoy for cause. And we had detailed, documented complaints about her behavior and performance. Bridges’ performance evaluations are essentially meaningless in terms of his contract.
So give the man his due. This is a good deal for him. It’s way better than what Kathryn LeRoy had. It’s a tougher tenure protection that anything any teacher-hater has ever complained about. He’s got game. I feel certain that anyone who can protect himself so thoroughly from his own employer can come up with a legal strategy to help prevent the unelected Board of Education from illegally seizing local control of our teachers — if he chooses to.
I confirmed with Bridges, face-to-face, that this is his position on what his contract says. I have no reason to think he is wrong. We had an exceedingly cordial, frank, and useful meeting Wednesday evening. We both enjoy words, debate, and puzzles of reasoning. I think we rather enjoyed our talk. Whatever happens Tuesday, I suspect we’ll get along fine personally as long as he’s here. My concerns about Wes relate to his professional performance and philosophy of legal leadership. I’ll address that in another post prior to Tuesday.
I suppose Bridges is under no obligation to remind his employer that his contract renews for three years — not one year — every January 1. But I do wonder how many board members, going back to 2014, realized they’ve been extending a three-year deal each January 1.
If they didn’t know, it shows the chronic inattention that has plagued our board for a long time. If they did know, it shows extraordinarily bad judgement. That has also plagued this board for a long time.
By the way, I am not asking for a response from any board member. I think that would be illegal. We’ll talk about it on Tuesday.
My position remains that we should part ways with Wes Bridges as part of bringing a cultural change to this School District. However, what’s most urgent is that we not renew this contract. It already ties the hands of the 2018 board. To renew it this year would tie the hands of the 2020 board, too. That’s just unconscionable. We must start the clock on this three-year deal. Because no official should be so thoroughly protected from accountability as the School Board attorney currently is.