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Board approves four-year contract for CEO


To provide stability, sustain momentum and reward significant progress, the Board of Education voted 9-0 Tuesday to approve a new four-year contract for Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon.

The agreement, which will take effect July 1, awards Gordon his first pay increase in four years, with the percentage comparable to that already given to teachers. (Find a copy of the contract here.) Future increases will equal those that teachers will receive under their collective bargaining agreement.

The CEO also could receive bonuses tied to increases in the graduation rate, attendance, parent engagement and third-grade reading proficiency and a simultaneous increase in enrollment in high-performing schools and a decrease in the number of failing schools. The contract sets high thresholds for the bonuses, so progress would have to be substantial.

Gordon was appointed in 2011. At the conclusion of the new contract, he will be the District's longest serving superintendent since Paul W. Briggs, who held the job from 1964 through 1978.

Board Chair Denise Link said the nine-member board was thoughtful and strategic in proposing the contract. She said the agreement is fair and competitive and aligns with goals of The Cleveland Plan, the blueprint for education reform in the city.

"We are pleased with the work of our CEO in the last four years, and the general feeling was that he should not only be fairly compensated for his work but also rewarded for making significant strides over the next four years," Link said.

Gordon insisted that his current three-year contract, effective in 2012, be "no frills" and not include the financial perks of his predecessors and other big-city superintendents. The CEO will continue to forgo the car allowances given to 45 percent of urban superintendents across the nation and retirement pickups given to 86 percent of those superintendents.

"While working to keep our CEO salary competitive nationally, the board felt strongly that the contract should be seen as fair and equitable locally and tied, in part, to results," said Link.

The CEO's salary will increase from $227,700 to $239,200 in the first year of the contract. He will receive an annual increase each July 1 that equals the percentage given to teachers and professional staff as part of their collective bargaining agreement.

The five bonuses are each worth $5,000. Link added that the bonus structure aligns with the differentiated compensation system that was recently implemented for educators districtwide and ties salary increases to performance.

If Gordon earns all the bonuses, his salary will still fall well short of the $276,000 paid to his predecessor, Eugene Sanders, and the $278,000 salary of Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was CEO before Sanders.

A study of urban school superintendents conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools last fall shows Gordon's salary and benefits package is below the national average. According to the study, the average CGCS superintendent salary was $242,000 in 2014. The majority -- 54 percent -- of urban superintendents earned $250,000 or more per year and their average benefits package was valued at $153,223.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said urban public school superintendents have one of the most important and challenging jobs in America.

"Cleveland is fortunate to have one of the best, most dedicated school leaders of any big city in the nation, and his vision and leadership are critical to the future of this great city," he said. "I couldn't be more optimistic about the reforms Eric Gordon is putting into place, now that the board has decided to keep him at the helm and sustain this important progress."

Link said the board believes Gordon is moving the District in the right direction.

"With a 12.1 percent increase in the graduation rate, the passage of a school levy and a bond issue and a balanced budget four years in a row, CMSD is an entirely different system than the one Eric Gordon inherited four years ago," she said.

"Our ability to attract and retain a strong, proven superintendent is an essential factor for building trust and creating stability in Cleveland's public schools," she added.