LOWELL -- The School Committee abruptly decided Wednesday night to postpone the two-year contract extension vote for Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco.
When the agenda item came up for discussion early in the meeting, member Connie Martin made a surprise motion to table the item until the next meeting.
Franco's new deal would have gone into effect July 1, as her current pact is set to expire June 30, but it is now unclear as to what will happen since the committee's next meeting is July 16, as it is now operating on a summer schedule of monthly meetings.
Martin's motion, which the committee approved, 6-1, with Stephen Gendron opposed, was to postpone the vote until the next meeting, talk about the contract in executive session, and then bring it back at the next meeting.
"We've been making efforts the past few weeks to move on this," Gendron said. "Why postpone now?"
Martin said, "My comments would need to take place in executive session, which is why it exists. Feel free not to support (postponing the discussion), but my request is to have executive session so we can share it."
Gendron asked if the executive-session discussion could take place Wednesday night at the end of the meeting, but Mayor Rodney Elliott said executive-session discussions must be posted ahead of time in compliance with the state's Open Meeting Law.
"Let's do it quickly," Gendron said. "I don't want to wait much longer."
"I'm prepared to vote on this tonight, but if my colleague wants to go into executive session, I'll support that. We should do it as soon as possible," said member Jim Leary.
Unless the committee votes to schedule an additional meeting, it would discuss Franco's contract in executive session July 16 and then either return to open session to vote on the contract that night or discuss it at its Aug. 20 meeting.
It is also unclear what will happen with Franco, as the terms of her existing contract state the deal "may be terminated by mutual written agreement upon 90 days notice. The Superintendent shall not later than December 1, 2013 advise the Committee by written notice whether she desires to negotiate a successor Agreement. Failure to notify the Committee shall result in the expiration of this agreement on June 30, 2014 unless this Agreement is otherwise terminated for cause as stated herein.
"Upon receipt of timely notice from the Superintendent of her desire for a Successor Agreement, the Committee shall within sixty (60) calendar days respond to the Superintendent in writing of its willingness or unwillingness to accept a proposal for a successor contract. Failure of the Committee to respond to the written notice of the Superintendent within said sixty (60) calendar day period shall cause this Agreement to be extended for one (1) year on terms no less favorable to the Superintendent than prevailed in the July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014 Agreement year."
The contract gives the committee the ability to terminate the contract for any of the following reasons: "inefficiency, incompetence, insubordination against reasonable policies, and or reasonable directives and rules of the committee, moral misconduct, disability as shown by competent medical evidence, and/or other good cause as determined by the committee."
If the committee wanted to terminate the agreement, it has to provide Franco written notice that termination of the contract is under consideration.
None of this has happened, but it's unclear as to what the committee not agreeing to a new contract means for Franco.
Franco informed the committee last week she accepted its offer of a two-year deal.
She would be paid an annual salary of no less than $175,992.50 and would be eligible for a 1 percent cost-of-living increase, according to the terms of the deal Franco accepted.
Franco will also be eligible for a merit raise each year based on the School Committee's evaluation of her. If she achieves a performance rating of "proficient," Franco will receive a 2 percent pay increase. Franco will receive a 3 percent pay increase if she receives a performance rating of "exemplary."
Franco will receive a monthly travel allowance of $300 in lieu of a mileage reimbursement, among other terms of the pact, according to sources.
Franco was selected as superintendent in April 2011 to replace the outgoing Chris Scott. Her tenure as superintendent began in July 2011.
Her starting salary as superintendent was $170,000, and her initial deal called for her to be eligible for a percentage increase in pay in the third year of the contract if the United Teachers of Lowell received an increase during the 2013-14 academic year.
Franco came to Lowell in 1996 as a Spanish bilingual facilitator, a role she continued in until being named assistant superintendent for Student Support Services in 2002.