CMS Superintendent Halfway Through Contract, But Board Hasn't Discussed Extension
Earnest Winston is now halfway through his three-year contract as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and the school board chair says the board has yet to discuss extending it.
Winston was hired in August 2019 under challenging conditions. The school board had just pressured Clayton Wilcox to resign. It was the second forced resignation of a CMS superintendent in five years, and the board didn’t want the upheaval of another national search.
So the board hired Winston, the district’s ombudsman and former chief of staff. He lacked the usual credentials and supervisory experience, but he’d worked closely with previous superintendents. And he was highly regarded by many in the district.
His contract runs only through June of 2022 -- a year less than the four years allowed by the state. And the board included an unusual clause allowing them to dismiss him without cause with only 60 days' notice.
Mary McCray, the board chair at the time, said that gave the board flexibility if they decided to search for a new leader.
"If the board decides that they want to do a search and they find someone, then they can notify him that they have found someone and he’ll work those 60 days," she said.
Traditionally CMS superintendents have had four-year contracts, which get extended at the end of each year. Superintendents can only hire assistants for as long as they’re under contract, so having the maximum four years makes it easier to recruit top lieutenants as needed.
Contract changes tend to follow annual evaluations -- sometimes with a performance bonus. Winston’s contract, which set his base salary at $288,000 a year, didn’t provide for a bonus. But it did say his term could be extended any time after June 30 of 2020.
Board members say they did an evaluation of Winston’s work in closed session after his first year on the job -- a first year that became even more challenging when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. But the board did not change his contract, which would have required a public vote.
This week board Chair Elyse Dashew declined to do an interview about Winston’s contract. By text message, she initially said Winston had a four-year contract, then agreed that’s not correct. She said the board is pleased with Winston’s performance and has not had any discussions about the terms of his contract.