James Henderson during a June 8 board meeting. | Screen shot

Nearing the close of the first year of his original three-year contract, Proviso Township High School District 209 Superintendent James Henderson was given a five-year contract with an increased salary during the June 8 school board meeting.

Henderson’s initial contract, which began in August 2020, was a three-year, $250,000 annual employment agreement.

The new contract runs through the end of the 2025-26 school year, according to information on the district’s website.

Henderson’s increased salary is $262,500 plus an unspecified pension contribution paid by the school district. The contract also contributes $32,129 in health insurance premiums annually, a $12,500 annual annuity and a $6,000-per-year vehicle allowance. He is entitled to 14 sick days and 25 vacation days.

The basics of the new contract can be found on the district’s website at www.pths209.org/Page/4489. The Review has requested copies of both Henderson’s original and new contract, and it is uncertain at this time if there are any changes to the out clause or any other major amendments made.

During the June 8 meeting, board member Claudia Medina made a motion to table the discussion and vote on the new contract. Although board members Amanda Grant and Ned Wagner supported the motion to table, the other four members voted it down.

The contract was approved 5 to 2, with Medina and Grant voting against it.

While Grant did not share the rationale behind her vote during the meeting, Medina, who has had a history of friction with Henderson and the rest of the board, including filing a libel lawsuit against them on May 11, was vocal in her opposition, stating the new contract is not “in any way shape or form” like actions taken with previous superintendents.

“It’s an excess amount of money,” Medina said. “And we don’t have … any data points whatsoever presented to substantiate such a raise and to give a five-year contract. There are no metrics at all. And I think that the amount of money being put on this contract is unacceptable.”

Board member Theresa Kelly, on the other hand, said that although she typically doesn’t approve of five-year contracts, she sees the need to make an exception right now, given the extraordinary conditions COVID-19 has presented to the district and the need to bring stability to the schools.

“Normally, I do not vote to approve five-year contracts,” Kelly said. “But this year and a half has been anything but normal. And I truly believe that having and keeping stability in District 209 is more important than having a hardline stance on five-year contracts.”

Kelly also expressed confidence in Henderson’s ability to improve the district, stating, “I believe that Henderson is the right person to move this district forward and should be given the opportunity to see his strategic plan through the five years requested.”

Board member Della Patterson echoed Kelly’s statements about stability, saying she’d had conversations with previous superintendents in the district about how lack of consistency in leadership may have contributed to a lack of improvement.

“You cannot build stability if you start and stop, and that’s what this district has been notorious for,” Patterson said.

Wagner thanked Henderson for his “leadership through an immensely difficult and challenging times in a very difficult and challenging environment. … I really honor and respect the work that you’ve done.”

Wagner said he’d voted to table the discussion on the new contract because he thought that more information about Henderson’s goals and plans would be helpful to have before the vote, referencing an upcoming board retreat.

“We’re about to have a retreat and talk about vision, mission and goals and a long-term plan for the future of the district,” Wagner said. “I just feel like that it would have been beneficial to have that conversation prior to voting on the contract.”

Since tabling the vote was voted down, however, Wagner said he chose to approve the contract.

During the superintendent’s report, Henderson thanked the board members for showing their confidence in him by issuing the new contract.

“I love you all,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work in tandem to move this district forward.”

He added: “Ms. Medina, I’m waiting on you.”