In her last meeting as superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools after 17 years, Wendy Robinson received a going-away gift – a $20,000 severance check.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of the payment. Tom Smith, 3rd District, voted against the measure, saying his vote didn't reflect his opinion of Robinson's performance in her job or as a community leader.
Smith said because of the way COVID-19 has affected parents and taxpayers, with many unemployed or working only part-time or more than one job, he said he could not justify the expense.
The schools also are facing uncertainty in funding from the state, he said.
“I can't imagine a worse time to give someone an extra $20,000 that wasn't contracted for,” Smith said.
“My vote is all about saving money at this time,” he added.
Robinson's final contract included a base annual salary of $210,164.
School board members praised Robinson for leading the schools through tumultuous times that included the rise of charter and voucher schools, shrinking state funds, three building referendums and a student population growing in diversity.
“Through it all, Dr. Robinson has kept the wolves at bay,” said Ann Duff.
Robinson “led with class the whole time,” added Maria Norman.
Longtime board member Steve Corona noted that Robinson has attended roughly 325 board meetings as superintendent. He thanked her, too, for her dedication and commitment as a 30-year district employee before being named superintendent.
“I'm gonna miss you at the next meeting in July, when you're not in the room,” he said.
Then Corona asked whether Robinson had any advice for the board as it goes forward with a new superintendent, Mark Daniel.
“I would just ask that you give him some space. ... Give him breathing room,” she said, adding that the North Side High School graduate “comes to the job for the right reasons.”
“It would break my heart if things would fall apart,” Robinson said. “I will be the strongest supporter FWCS ever had, but from a distance.”
In other business, the board recognized the service of its late member Jordan Lebamoff by presenting his family with a district flag to fly at the family home, which is within sight of South Side High School, Lebamoff's alma mater.
The board also said it will plant a tree and place a plaque on the South Side campus next to the natatorium. Lebamoff's widow, Nicole Jaubert-Lebamoff and sons Sebastien and Julien attended the presentation.
Board President Julia Hollingsworth said a search is underway for a successor. Three people have applied, but only one lives in the 4th District as required, she said.
The deadline is June 30, but there is no application form. Inquiries can be made to any board member's email address or to the district office at 1200 S. Clinton St.
Applicants must be at least 21 years old and describe their qualifications, background, skills and experience in the district to be considered, Hollingsworth said. Applicants must also live in the 4th District for one year and be a registered voter there.
School district cuts ties with non-teacher union
The Fort Wayne Community Schools' board Monday night voted unanimously to discontinue recognition of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union as the bargaining unit for about 80 employees.
The move came after board members of the union's Local 561, which consists entirely of FWCS employees, voted unanimously to leave the union at the end of December 2019.
Union members had included hourly paid secretaries, media and other clerks, school and bus assistants, special education assistants, interpreters for the hearing- and visually- impaired, groundskeepers and nutrition services employees.
AFSCME did not represent teachers.
Charles Cammack Jr., chief operations officer, said the contract with the union will expire June 30. He added the district will continue to meet and work with the former members as one of several “unaffiliated groups” of district employees.
Cammack said there has been limited communication about the group's intentions, but he did not expect members would remain unaffiliated.
No information was available at the meeting about the reason for the split from the union, except that Cammack noted the union “had not been very effective.”
A call to union headquarters was not returned Monday.
The board unanimously approved a 1.5% raise Monday night for all nonunion permanent hourly staff for the 2020-21 school year. Permanent staff does not include substitutes or temporary or inactive employees.