Hannibal’s Board of Education recently rejected a contract extension for Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio, who may leave his job when his contract expires at the end of the next school year.
Board President Dale Young said that he and board member Matt Henderson negotiated a contract extension with DiFabio over two or three meetings. He said each side gave a little to the other.
“I took it back to the board and the board turned it down,” Young said.
“I would just say that my contract is up,” DiFabio said. “The board has not extended my contract. They have until June 30 to extend. There have been no plans for meeting on that.”
“And with the board turning it down, Mike said, ‘Okay, I know where I’m going now, I’ll just plan on staying out my contract and retiring,” Young said. “I’ve gone to Mike on a couple different occasions and asked him would you like to sit down and work this out a litle further and he’s always said no.”
DiFabio has spent 30 years with the district, the last 5 as its Superintendent of Schools. He inherited the repaying of thousands of dollars from an engine parts-ordering scandal, oversaw the installation of the Reading First program that helped the district get off the state’s In Need of Improvement list, tackled two buildings projects and now is attempting to cope with the unexpected loss of more than a million dollars in state aid.
“I think there’s some differences of opinion (about DiFabio among board members),” Young said. “I think there’s some members of the board who don’t fully trust the leadership of Mike. I don’t see it. I think he’s a competent leader. I think he’s got vision. This guy does a lot and I’m really sad to see him go. We need his leadership and his vision, especially now.”
But those differences, which had been hinted at in past public meetings, came into clearer view Wednesday night during a discussion of the elimination of a half-time music position, which will eliminate band for 5th graders.
Board member Linda Warrick said the administration did not give the board information such as the cost of the position being cut. “I had no idea what (the) half-time music position cost,” she said.
Board member Mirelle Watts criticized DiFabio and Business Manager Nancy Henner for not providing a line-item budget for the board to review. “We have not had the opportunity to participate in the budget the way we should be able to and that’s a disappointment to me. We were never provided with a line item budget. We actually got to see the information at the same time the public did. We did not get information in advance.”
“It’s a team, and we have not been a team this year,” she said.
Watts, an accountant, sparred later in the meeting over the way the financial data of the district’s construction project is presented to the board. Watts voted against accepting the financial report. At a recent meeting, Watts had Henner’s name removed from a long list of staff members to have their tenure approved by the board. Henner’s tenure was approved after a discussion in executive session.
DiFabio, clearly stung, asked for time to respond.
“Fact number one is the Board of Education approved a budget calendar back in November, Decenter. Fact number two is our board policy requires the superintendent to present a three part budget to the board. Fact number three is in January, Nancy Henner brought to the board a budget-to-budget number and was very clear that nothing was added budget-to-budget. Fact number four, I presented the board the best way I could meet — because the direction was, what cuts would we need to meet our tax levy and our current Governor’s budget and I presented to the board cuts of almost a million dollars and I had recommendations listed on the presentation and on the webpage. Fact number five, I also updated that and each time the amount was on our webpage,” he said.
“I do not, do not, do not work alone,” he said. “I work with you as a team. I am trying to be very transparent. It was very clear to me when I had co-curricular (programs such as student clubs and the prom) on there that it was clear to me that the board unanimously said co-curricular could not be in the cuts and they disappeared. You were not clear as a board on marching band, on sports, on the half-time music position, so they remain on there. I was instructed to cut even more.”
DiFabio repeated what board members were told when the request for a line-item budget first came up several months ago. He said that the district has not done that in the past, and that a line-item budget could be produced for the next budget cycle but would be almost impossible to generate during budget season. Henner had told board members that because the initial budget was unchanged from the year before, the current year’s line-item budget would be identical to what they were asking for.
“I thought we worked more as a team,” DiFabio concluded. “I listen and I want direction from the board as a unit. I did not get that. We do not do line-by-line budgets. We will do whatever the board wants us to do, but it has to be the board as a unit.”