The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 21, 2013

Conneaut BOE votes to renew contracts for superintendent, treasurer

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The two top administrators in the Conneaut Area City Schools district received new contracts at Wednesday night's Conneaut Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Kent Houston received a two-year contract, while Treasurer Lindsey Cotton was given a three-year pact.

Board members Christopher Newcomb, Joan Norton, Michael Kennedy and Suzanne Bernardini voted yes on both contracts. The fifth member, Sonny Heinonen, abstained.

Houston, who became superintendent in 2008, will receive no pay increases either year of the contract, thereby maintaining his $95,842 salary through the end of the agreement, said Newcomb, board president. Houston will receive some additional vacation days, Newcomb said.

"We were in negotiations quite some time (with Houston)," Newcomb said after the meeting. "He expressed interest in maintaining his employment through retirement."

After the meeting, Houston said he was pleased with the contract. "I'm happy to be here and (the agreement) will allow me to finish out my career in Conneaut."

Houston said he did not seek a pay raise because of contract negotiations slated to start later this year, a hint that employees may be asked to accept a pay freeze. "I could not in good conscience accept a pay raise," he said.

Cotton, who became treasurer in May 2011, will receive a $2,000 pay raise this year, bringing her salary to $65,500. Her compensation climbs to $67,500 in the second year of the contract and $70,000 in the third year, Newcomb said.

The salary is "more commensurate" with other treasurers in the area, he said.

Contracts for Houston and Cotton take effect at the end of July.

Board members also approved three-year contracts for other workers not represented by unions: Kathy Baker, Houston's secretary; Kevin Warren, buildings/grounds superintendent; and Jody Suerdieck, assistant to the treasurer.

Before those contracts were presented for a vote, Heinonen made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the measures. The motion died for lack of a second, prompting an angry Heinonen to say. "You've got to be kidding me. You don't want to discuss any of this?"

The three contracts were approved moments later, each by a 4-1 vote. Heinonen cast the no votes.

Heinonen was not available after the meeting to explain his votes on any of the contracts. Last month Heinonen he was "not happy" with Houston, but did not elaborate at the time.

Houston made news in 2012 when he sought superintendent jobs in three other Ohio districts. He withdrew his name from consideration on two of the positions and was ultimately passed over on the third.