City Life: School board enhanced Hubbard's compensation mid-contract

The trustees of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District could terminate the employment of Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard today, according to the terms of his four-year contract, which is the maximum length of a contract allowed under the education code.

It would require 30 days' notice, during which time he could be placed on paid administrative leave — a process with which they are already familiar.

The process is known as an at-will termination, which means that as long as the employee is not being fired for a reason covered by a protected class — such as age, race or gender — it's OK to fire away. Hubbard's contract states the board's option to terminate is "in its complete discretion."

According to the terms of the original contract, signed on May 16, 2006, by then-board President Dave Brooks, Hubbard as an at-will terminee would have received a lump sum payout equal to: "(i) the balance of the current monthly base salary then in effect, including compensation for professional growth and the earned doctorate for the remainder of this Agreement; or (ii) an amount equal to the current monthly base salary (paragraph 3.A.) multiplied by 12 months, whichever is lesser."

In 2006, Hubbard's base salary was $218,500. He also received 2% of his base salary, or $4,370, "to support the Superintendent's pursuit of professional growth" and 4% of his base salary, or $8,740, because he has a doctorate. As his base salary increases, so do the professional growth and doctorate awards.

Other compensation includes:

• "…an increment of up to 8% of Base Salary for performance/merit contingent upon the recommendation of the Board of Education and based upon the Superintendent's annual evaluation;…";

• A cost-of-living adjustment. "Commencing on July, 1, 2007 and each fiscal year thereafter, the Superintendent shall receive the cost-of-living adjustment provided in general to other administrative employees for subsequent years under this Agreement.";

• $750 per month for an automobile allowance; and

• $100 per month for a communications (cell phone) allowance.

Context is important here. In Irvine, for example, the superintendent has no car allowance and is not paid for having a doctorate. The cell phone and service plan are provided for the Irvine superintendent at $100 per month — $85 is paid by the district and $15 by the superintendent.

Hubbard's compensation, though, is not at issue today. The issue is what happened after this contract was signed in 2006.

On Sept. 28, 2007, Hubbard's contract was extended by one year, changing the expiration date to June 30, 2011. Also on this date, the board bought a $15,000 life insurance annuity "of the Superintendent's choice…"

But wait, there's more. Remember the aforementioned 12-month multiplier upon at-will termination? That was changed to 18 months, giving Hubbard a potential gift of more than $100,000 should he be terminated at will.

But wait, there's even more. In what became a routine matter, the school board on July 8, 2008, again extended Hubbard's contract. This time, they also increased his life insurance annuity to $20,000. His contract now expires June 30, 2012.

Sorry, not done yet. On Oct. 27, 2009, Hubbard's contract was extended for another year, set to expire now on June 30, 2013.

On Aug. 24, 2010, just a few months before he was indicted on three felony charges in Los Angeles County, Hubbard's contract was extended once again, setting the new termination date at June 30, 2014. (Hubbard has pleaded not guilty to making improper payments to a subordinate, who later became a contractor, while he was schools chief in Beverly Hills.)

As far as I can determine, there has been no contract extension so far this year. But there's still time.

Some of you are already way ahead of me. Besides creating a never-ending contract for Hubbard in what may be construed as a way around the education code contract limitation, the board showed fiscal irresponsibility by making it more expensive to fire him.

I don't fault Hubbard for his compensation, his never-ending contract or his at-will termination bonus. Most of us would take it and be happy about it, as he probably is.

The fault is ours, readers, for these bad business decisions were made by people we elected. I want to know why.

Why would Hubbard's contract be extended every year in what appears to be an automatic process, and why on earth would the board increase the at-will payout when the employee has already agreed to a lesser formula?

In a corporate setting, I could make all sorts of justifications. But these are our tax dollars and I don't know about you, but I don't work hard each year and pay taxes just to have someone else give them away.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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